It’s almost a Pavlov reflex. When a new generation of mobile telephony begins to be activated, such as 5G, telecom researchers and manufacturers immediately get down to work on the next one, assuming that the renewal must be done every ten years. Reflection therefore began on 6G in 2019 at the instigation of the University of Oulu in Finland. Since then, studies have been launched in the United States, South Korea, Japan, China and Europe. Here are the avenues that prevail over this emerging technology.
AI for a more resilient and efficient network
What would be the needs that 5G could not meet in 2030? This question calls for several answers. The first focuses on societal issues that are already emerging. And first and foremost a need for resilience. With the pandemic and the increase in teleworking, the population wants permanent access to the mobile network and is becoming more and more intolerant of blackouts. However, we will have to deal with the continual increase in traffic but also with extreme weather episodes which will multiply with global warming. How to maintain the service in all circumstances, when the mobile antennas remain outside and cannot be buried?
This same global warming requires reducing greenhouse gas emissions and being even more energy efficient. Finally, the controversy surrounding Huawei’s 5G antennas raises the question of national security and the autonomy of operators vis-à-vis their equipment manufacturers. The idea of developing open and interoperable equipment is gaining momentum.
“What we need is the most efficient, reliable, secure and robust network possible”, summarizes Nicolas Demassieux, director of research at Orange. Artificial intelligence could help address a few of these challenges. “5G was not designed natively to integrate AI which is just emerging”, Nicolas Demassieux still observes. By taking it into account from the start in 6G, the thousands of network parameters could be fine-tuned and in real time.
1000 Gbit / s speeds and Terahertz frequencies?
Some players like Samsung are pushing 6G to technical performance. Both a terminal builder and an equipment manufacturer, the Korean giant even promises real feats.
It evokes downlink speeds of 1000 Gbit / s and a latency of less than 0.1 ms, against 10 to 20 Gbit / s of speed and 1 ms of latency obtained at best with 5G.
To achieve such results, Samsung is considering in particular the use of the Terahertz band which goes from 100 GHz to 30 THz. It has a lot of bandwidth available to boost speeds.
But this option is now far from reaching a consensus. “ I find it to be a legitimate subject for academic research. But I’m a little dubious about the usefulness of Terahertz for 6G. The range will be extremely low and it will require transmitters that are inexpensive “, Nicolas Demassieux analysis. “The question is: what will we need? Ultra-performance or ambient connectivity wherever you are? Take the example of electricity: it is not by increasing its power but by ensuring that it was available everywhere that we have made progress ”, he adds.
Holographic telepresence and digital twins
There is another more prospective and conceptual vision of 6G. Like that of Nokia, which is piloting the flagship exploratory project of the European Commission: Hexa-X. “In 2030, interactions will be stronger between the real world, the digital world and the virtual world”, says Jean-Luc Beylat, President of Nokia Bell Labs France. The idea is to connect the human body, sensors, digital infrastructures and computing capacities together within a vast ecosystem. “6G could become the network of networks”, adds Jean-Luc Beylat.
In its white paper on 6G, the Finnish equipment manufacturer predicts that touch screens will become obsolete in favor of voice and gesture interactions that will become the norm. That we will control machines remotely via patches, bio-implants, devices integrated into our clothes, even brain sensors like the Elon Musk dream with his Neuralink brain implant project with transhumanist accents.
Another emerging avenue, that of holographic telepresence, which could impose itself in professional and social interactions. This would make it seem like you are in a place like your office from anywhere in the world. Exactly what Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg is predicting with the advancement of virtual reality.
The concept of digital twin finally holds a central place in most of the drafts on the 6G. The idea is to make a complete copy of an object, a community, a company and even a person in a data center and to synchronize it constantly. This can apply to an entire city like Paris or a factory. If you want to change the traffic of cars or an assembly line, you test the changes in the digital copy and can then apply it in the real world with lightning speed. And why not do the same with medical treatment for a person. “We can immediately test and distribute new solutions”, enthuses Jean-Luc Beylat.
The European Hexa-X project will deliver its conclusions in June 2023. All current developments will have to reach a consensus at the international level before starting a standardization process. If 3GPP has not yet taken up the subject of 6G, the International Communications Union (ITU) is timidly starting to think about it.