Many 6G research initiatives are appearing around the world as the significance of our dependence on fast, reliable networks is highlighted by the pandemic.
The last 18 months has highlighted the significance of our communications networks, and how many of us have become dependent on them to continue some form of normality, whatever that might be. So, as we slowly start coming out of lockdowns and governments continue to ease restrictions, it’s no surprise that a lot of research focusing on 6G, considered the next big thing for communications, is top of mind.
This week, two U.K. universities launched a virtual research hub to focus on 6G, and this is just one of many initiatives, alliances and partnerships we’ve seen announced around the world in recent weeks and months. That includes Finland’s flagship program tying up with a Singapore, the U.S. and U.K. leaders considering how to collaborate on 6G as part of a wider technology alliance, a Korean and Japanese alliance between LG and KDDI, a collaboration between Ericsson and MIT, a 6G research center in Texas with participation from Samsung, AT&T, Nvidia, Qualcomm and InterDigital, and a 6G research hub in Dresden and Munich funded by German government.
In parallel, the European Commission along with the European private sector 5G Infrastructure Association (5G IA) met in June to present a new €900 million European joint undertaking (JU) on smart networks and services (SNS) to define and implement research, innovation and deployment roadmaps that will enable Europe to take a leading role in 6G. The first calls for project proposals under this new SNS JU are expected to be launched later this year, with the first projects starting later in 2022.
Hear from experts from Qualcomm, Rohde & Schwarz, Keysight Technologies, Movandi, EdgeQ, Infineon, and SPIL, who will share their insights and strategies—from the test and measurement, to semiconductor design and packaging, all the way to deployment and new applications and services—to stay ahead of this rapidly growing mobile technology.
The 5G IA published a white paper covering key areas of 6G research proposed, and explains how 6G is expected to play a key role in the evolution of the society towards the 2030s, as the convergence between the digital, physical and personal worlds will increasingly become a reality. Furthermore, 6G will support the European Green Deal’s objective of reaching climate neutrality for Europe by 2050. This and other objectives of 6G will also greatly contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
U.K. universities launch 6G Futures
This week, the University of Bristol and King’s College London launched a center to develop U.K. research in 6G. The new virtual hub, called 6G Futures, unites more than 400 world-renowned experts in telecommunications networks, cyber, artificial intelligence (AI), digital humanities, social sciences and arts from the two universities. Both institutions have played a pivotal role in bringing 5G to the mainstream. While they both have expertise in AI and machine learning, King’s specializes in mobile networks and the University of Bristol has particular expertise in wired/wireless technology and network layers.
The academic team leading 6G Futures are Professor Dimitra Simeonidou, director of the University of Bristol’s Smart Internet Lab and co-director of Bristol Digital Futures Institute; and Professor Mischa Dohler, Professor in wireless communications at King’s College. Simeonidou said, “6G will be inherently human-centric, and will establish a cyber-physical continuum by delivering real time sensory information, supporting haptics and holograms. This takes us far beyond future-forecasting: crucially, this is about having the specialist knowledge and expertise to transform visions into deliverable solutions, accelerate innovation, and make a positive difference to society worldwide.”
Dohler added, “The creation of this center is a notable moment for the UK technology sector. We will be developing novel architectures, incorporating federated exchange and self-synthesizing mechanisms, advance the internet of skills, and embed blockchain, quantum and federated AI technologies. But it’s not just pure tech – we’ll be working on co-creation with verticals toward some truly exciting and societally impacting use-cases, while contributing to policy, alliances and global standards.”
Simeonidou and Dohler’s bosses at the two universities said the center would fill a national leadership gap for 6G in the U.K. Phil Taylor, pro vice-chancellor for research and enterprise at the University of Bristol, said, “Not only will the focus be on technology but also on the development of solutions that could transform sectors spanning health, energy and transport. It will provide an opportunity for industry and international collaborators to come together with the best and brightest minds, here in the world-renowned tech clusters of London and Bristol.”
Reza Razavi, vice president & vice principal (research) at King’s, added, “If the UK is going to play a major role in realising the potential of 6G, we need a national center that brings together the very best minds in communications technologies, cyber, AI, digital humanities, the arts and social science.”
Germany invests €70m in 6G research hubs
Meanwhile in Germany, four 6G research hubs are being established, with an investment of €70 million over the next four years by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Under this initiative, the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute (HHI) will be coordinating the “6G Research and Innovation Cluster (6G-RIC)” research hub, a “6G-Life” research hub has been created in Dresden and Munich through a partnership between Technische Universität Dresden and the Technical University Munich.
A total of around 50 research partners from science and industry are involved in the four hubs, which aim to bundle national research activities in order to lay the technological foundations for future mobile communications generations. The main focus lies on technologies and key components that are developed and manufactured in Germany and Europe in order to achieve technological sovereignty and to ensure data security.
At Fraunhofer HHI, Professor Slawomir Stanczak, coordinator of the hub, said, “Within the 6G-RIC consortium, we can contribute our expertise in several research fields from fundamental research to implementation: mobile communications, artificial Intelligence, and optical data transmission and compression. By bringing together experienced, interdisciplinary partners in the research hub, we can strengthen Germany’s position in international initiatives on 6G.” The 6G-RIC consortium consists of a supra-regional association of eleven universities.
The 6G-Life hub led by Dresden and Munich will focus on human-machine collaboration, combing their preliminary work on areas like tactile internet, 5G communications networks, quantum communication, post-Shannon theory, AI, and adaptive and flexible hardware and software platforms. It will look at providing new concepts for security (quantum communication, post-quantum security), and latencies in communications networks.
Another aspect of the 6G-Life hub is to stimulate the startup landscape in Germany. The goal is to create at least 10 new startups through 6G-Life in the first four years as well as involve at least 30 startups in the objectives of the hub.
Finland’s 6G Flagship partners with Singapore and Japan
One of the more established programs in Europe is Finland’s 6G Flagship project. It has just announced a 6G research and development partnership with Singapore’s newly established Future Communications Research & Development Program (FCP). The FCP, which is hosted at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) in Singapore, was announced in July with a U.S. $70 million investment as part of the country’s research, innovation and enterprise plan.
Professor Matti Latva-aho of the 6G Flagship program in Finland explained the importance of the new partnership with Singapore’s FCP. He said, “The development of global breakthrough technologies, like 6G, always requires international collaboration. Therefore, partnerships with forerunner countries, such as Singapore, are vital for succeeding in 6G competition. Our collaboration will serve all Finnish 6G development when we work with Singapore in themes where mutual benefits can be achieved.”
The Finnish program also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Beyond 5G Promotion Consortium of the Japanese ministry of internal affairs and communications on mutual 6G technology cooperation. The key member organizations of the Japanese consortium include several Japanese telecommunications companies, operators and the conglomerate SoftBank. Professor Matti Latva-aho said, “Japan is a major global player in the development of wireless mobile technologies, and it is in Finland’s interest to expand the cooperation to themes where mutual competitive advantage can be achieved for 6G development. The importance of the collaboration is underlined by Japan’s decision earlier this spring to invest $2 billion in the development of 6G technologies.”
Ericsson and MIT collaborate on lithionics and zero-energy devices
MIT and Ericsson are collaborating on two major research projects on the design of state-of-the-art hardware that could power next generation 5G and 6G networks. This includes lithionics-based device research to enable neuromorphic computing, promising exponentially more energy efficient AI-algorithms than available today; and advances in hardware to enable “zero-energy” devices able to harvest energy directly from the received radio signal and use it to connect to the mobile network.
New feature-rich mobile networks could end up being complex structures for network operators to manage. Ericsson is researching cognitive networks which rely on AI to enable a secure, highly automized, data-driven network operation. To improve the compute power, speed and energy efficiency of cognitive networks, Ericsson Research and the MIT Materials Research Laboratory are collaborating to research new designs in lithionic chips enabling neuromorphic computing, offering exponentially more energy efficient AI processing. This could enable fully cognitive networks with reduced operation complexity and energy consumption compared to today.
In addition to research on lithionics, Ericsson and the MIT Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) are collaborating on research of mobile networks that connect trillions of sensors and other “zero-energy” devices around us. Powering these devices in a cost-efficient way, possibly directly via a radio signal, is a significant technology challenge. The research by Ericsson and MIT RLE may show how devices can harvest energy from radio signals and other sources, as well as how systems can be designed to utilize this low power to accomplish simple tasks, including how a mobile network may be designed to connect and control these devices.
Anantha P. Chandrakasan, Dean of MIT’s school of engineering, said “By combining our knowledge with Ericsson’s expertise in mobile technology, we aim to develop hardware that will power exciting new AI applications on the edge, and take significant strides in the next generation of mobile networks.”
University of Texas joins with Samsung, Nvidia, Qualcomm on 6G research
Going stateside, the University of Texas at Austin has launched 6G@UT, a new research center to lay the groundwork for 6G, along with industry. Founding 6G@UT affiliates Samsung, AT&T, Nvidia, Qualcomm and InterDigital will each fund at least two projects for three years at the center. Researchers from the companies will work alongside UT faculty members and students to develop wireless-specific machine learning algorithms, advanced sensing technologies, and core networking innovations that will be the backbone of 6G.
6G@UT director Jeffrey Andrews, a professor in UT Austin’s department of electrical and computer engineering, said, “Coupled with vast new sensing and localization abilities, 6G will be defined by an unprecedented native intelligence, which will transform the ability of the network to provide incredible services.”
The four key research directions for 6G@UT are:
The research group expects much of the innovation to lie at the intersection of these areas, in other words, the application of machine learning tools in conjunction with comprehensive sensing to enable efficient resource and spectrum sharing or highly directional beamforming. It also envisions an increasingly open and software-defined cellular network, building on the ORAN paradigm, that provides a platform for continuous and more rapid innovation compared to 5G, particularly for ML-related technologies.
This article was originally published on EE Times Europe.
Nitin Dahad is a correspondent for EE Times, EE Times Europe and also Editor-in-Chief of embedded.com. With 35 years in the electronics industry, he’s had many different roles: from engineer to journalist, and from entrepreneur to startup mentor and government advisor. He was part of the startup team that launched 32-bit microprocessor company ARC International in the US in the late 1990s and took it public, and co-founder of The Chilli, which influenced much of the tech startup scene in the early 2000s. He’s also worked with many of the big names—including National Semiconductor, GEC Plessey Semiconductors, Dialog Semiconductor and Marconi Instruments.