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6G and Beyond Wireless Technology

European Union_071820A
[European Union - ETH-Zurich]


6G: Building Tomorrow's Wireless Tech Beyond 100 GHz



- Overview

Wireless 6G is already generating headlines in the world of technology, but what is 6G, and when will you be able to get it? Right now, Wireless 5G is (just about) here. You can buy a 5G smartphone, and enjoy all the benefits of a 5G data connection today. However, technology never stops, and there is talk about the next step in the world of mobile connectivity -- 6G.

Is 6G real? Yes. And no. Yes, 6G (or whatever it’s eventually called) will eventually replace 5G, but 6G is not yet a functioning technology, and is instead in the early research phase. Mobile telecom companies are much too focused on 5G to deal with 6G in any significant way, although early research projects have begun thanks to funding from governments that want to gain an edge.  

How fast will 6G be? We don’t know how fast 6G will be yet, but estimates have it around 100 times faster than 5G. The final standards that will define what a 6G connection is will probably be down to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The ITU recently nailed down the standards for 5G (which it refers to as IMT-2020) after more than eight years of work, and is expected to start a similar process for 6G soon.

It’ll be like 5G, but more so. Even higher speeds, even lower latency, and masses of bandwidth. Researchers and scientists are talking about 6G going beyond a “wired” network, with devices acting as antennas using a decentralized network not under the control of a single network operator. If everything connects using 5G, 6G will set these connected devices free, as higher data speeds and lower latency make instant device-to-device connection possible. 


- The Evolution of the 6G System

Actually, 5G is just the system before 6G, not the end of the line in G. 5G, which has many more features than 4G, has already started to deploy worldwide in 2020. The 6G system, with the full support of artificial intelligence is expected to be deployed between 2027 and 2030. In beyond 5G, there are some fundamental issues, which need to be addressed are higher system capacity, higher data rate, lower latency, and improved quality of service (QoS) compared to 5G system. 

As 5G research is maturing towards a global standard, the research community must focus on the development of beyond-5G solutions and 2030 era, i.e. 6G. It is not clear yet what 6G will entail. It will include relevant technologies considered too immature for 5G or which are outside the defined scope of 5G. More specifically, the way in which data are collected, processed, transmitted and consumed within the wireless network will be a key driver for 6G.

It will take at least 10 years to have the rolling out of the first 6G systems (by 2030) and 5G will keep growing for a few more years after that (ETSI estimated a few years ago the peak in adoption for 5G around 2040), as it is now happening with 4G that is expected to grow for a few more years, at least till 2025. 

While the technology we expect to emerge from 5G -- from autonomous cars and drones to smart cities -- will be enhanced further with 6G, it may also bring about sci-fi applications like the integration of our brains with computers, and greatly improved touch control systems. 6G makes it possible for cyberspace to support human thought and action in real time through wearable devices and micro-devices mounted on the human body. Others have called it “Teleportation of the senses” for similar reasons. 

The report points toward the realm of science fiction becoming science fact, saying speeds in excess of 100 Gbps could make possible sensory interfaces that feel and look just like real life, potentially through smart glasses or contact lenses. It goes on to talk about prioritizing low power consumption for over-the-air charging, and coverage that could be extended across the sea and even out into space. 


- New Spectrum and Frequencies with 6G

6G requires massive performance improvements as compared to 5G. While 5G was designed to achieve peak speeds of 20 Gbps and utilize frequencies up to 100 GHz, 6G is expected to achieve data rates of up to 1000 Gbps and utilize frequencies up to 3 THz. Latency is also expected to be improved massively with air latency targeted to be around 100 μs, end-to-end (E2E) latency of around 1 ms which would be result in user experience latency of less than 10 ms. User experience latency is the sum of all latency components in the entire communication channel.

Just as the jump from 4G to 5G represents an expansion of spectrums used and introduction of new frequencies, so will the evolution between 5G and 6G communications. Whereas 5G leverages mmWave in the microwave frequency range, 6G will take advantage of even smaller wavelengths at the Terahertz (THz) band, which is typically referred to as 100 GHz to 3 THz.

By exploring the capabilities of wireless signals in the largely unused range above 100 gigahertz -- or the proposed 6G spectrum - can enable applications outside the classical definition of communications. The tiny signals at this range, referred to as millimeter waves, or mmWaves, can allow for imaging, mapping, localization and higher data-rate communications to connect multiple devices and even applications that haven’t yet been invented.


- New Challenges with 6G

The 6G wireless communication network is expected to integrate the terrestrial, aerial, and maritime communications into a robust network which would be more reliable, fast, and can support a massive number of devices with ultra-low latency requirements. 

Just as there have been, and will continue to be, many challenges with 5G, so will there be many new challenges with 6G.  One of those challenges will be developing commercial transceivers at the to-be utilized THz frequencies. This is largely an area in which electronics component providers will need to innovate. For example, semiconductor providers will need to deal with extremely small wavelengths and correspondingly small physical size of RF transistors and how they will interwork with element spacing of THz antenna arrays.

The researchers around the globe are proposing cutting edge technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning (ML), quantum communication/quantum machine learning (QML), blockchain, tera-Hertz and millimeter waves communication, tactile Internet, non-orthogonal multiple access (NOMA), small cells communication, fog/edge computing, etc., as the key technologies in the realization of beyond 5G and 6G communications. 


- Potential New Applications

Features of the 6G spectrum will make for some interesting applications and multiplicative effects. Potential applications for Terahertz spectrum include sensing, imagine, wireless cognition, For example:

  • Wireless cognition: Robotic control and drone fleet control;
  • Sensing: Air quality detection, personal health monitoring, gesture detection and touchless smartphones, explosive detection and gas sensing;
  • Imaging: See in the dark, HD resolution video radar, Terahertz security body scanning;
  • Communication: Wireless fiber backhaul, intra-device radio communication, connectivity in data centers, information shower;
  • Centimeter-level positioning.


- The Future of Global Satellite Broadband Networks

6G is expected to integrate with satellites. Integrating terrestrial, satellite, and airborne networks into a single wireless system will be crucial for 6G. 

Orbital broadband networks will need large constellations of small satellites to relay transmissions effectively and at lower power consumption than today’s larger satellites. This is where the technologies of wireless transmission absorption and refraction – known as frequency selective surfaces (FSS) – come to play a major role in increasing efficiency over any previous satellite wireless technology. 

FSS are used in Earth observation satellites to separate signals, which are collected by single reflector antennas. For these, FSS provide broadband remote sensing capability by enabling the instrument to work over a large frequency bandwidth. So, one instrument replaces many that were required in the past, thus reducing the footprint of each satellite (useful for nanosatellites) or [packing] more equipment onto a larger platform. FSS are an optimal solution to be used for future satellite broadband communications systems.




[More to come ...]

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