A farmer standing in the middle of her crops and working on a tablet

Building a More Sustainable Future with 6G

While 5G is still a few years from becoming mainstream, 6G research is already underway and is expected to be commercialized by 2030. This next generation of wireless technology promises to enable new ways to interact with our surroundings and unlock new use models across various industries. Its ultra-low latency and increased bandwidth will deliver massive data across decentralized, intelligent networks.

The emerging vision for 6G is to make possible near-instant and ubiquitous connectivity to transform how the human, physical, and digital worlds interact. This means new ways to leverage data, computation, and communication for further integration into society. The technology could support holographic communications, a tactile internet, intelligent network operations, network and computing convergence, and many more exciting possibilities. 6G will expand upon and go far beyond the capabilities of 5G, marking a new era of wireless that accelerates digitalization and drives business innovation across critical industries.

Shaping a more sustainable future with 6G

Besides an economic boon, it has become imperative that the technologies of tomorrow deliver positive environmental and social change, and 6G is foundational to this vision. 6G Flagship, a consortium of academic and industry leaders guiding 6G research, released a whitepaper examining the role that this technology can play in increasing productivity and aiding humanity. Keysight is proud to have co-created the program and is pushing for 6G to align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which outline efforts to enable more prosperous and sustainable communities worldwide. More recently, the Next G Alliance, the North America-focused 6G Consortium of which Keysight is a founding member, released a white paper outlining their vision of their path to sustainability in 6G.

6G environmental sustainability use cases

Global citizens are demanding urgent action as climate change brings rising temperatures and extreme weather. NASA reports that increased carbon emissions have raised the planet’s average surface temperature to 2.12 degrees Fahrenheit (1.18 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century — and the seven most recent years have been the warmest on record.

One hundred thirty-five countries and hundreds of companies worldwide have pledged carbon neutrality. The technology sector is poised to create long-term solutions toward environmental sustainability. In particular, electronic design can support the development of clean energy systems, data analytics for environmental applications, and machine technology advancements that reduce carbon emissions.

Infographic that shows icons representing a vehicle, a flower, an industrial plant with smokestack, a wireless tower, and an electrical cord with global carbon emissions data next to each. Under each icon and statistic is a description of how 6G will help improve sustainability and reduce global emissions in the transportation, agriculture, manufacturing, and telecommunications sectors.

By focusing on sustainability as a key driver of 6G research, we will discover new ways to combat climate change in the following industries and beyond.

6G and transportation

The U.S. transportation industry is currently the largest contributor (29%) of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA. 6G will enable smart transportation and logistics innovations, including connected vehicles and transit infrastructure. The growth in driverless electric vehicles will promote clean energy and reduce emissions by optimizing traffic flow. These outcomes will be made possible by applying wireless connectivity to sensor technology, distributed computing, and AI. This combination of new technologies will allow vehicles, traffic cameras, and roads to communicate and coordinate in real-time.

The Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA)’s 2020 Mobile Industry SDG Impact Report found that the increase in vehicle monitoring, route optimization, and fuel efficiency through telematics helped avoid approximately 105 million tons of greenhouse gases in 2018 — equivalent to taking 23 million cars off the road. In Toronto, a smart traffic management system that enables traffic lights to self-learn and recognizes patterns shortened travel times by up to 25% and reduced emissions by 13%.

6G and manufacturing

6G will build upon 5G’s ability to modernize all manufacturing stages — from product design to the factory floor to the warehouse. Connected machines and cooperative robotics can orchestrate all manufacturing and supply chain management activities, automating once-manual processes to enable more efficient and resilient supply chains.

6G-enabled manufacturing plants will also advance our ability to monitor and manage energy and water usage, reduce carbon emissions, and leverage renewable energy to power operations. For example, Ericsson’s Smart 5G Factory reduced waste by 5%, saved 5% on energy costs, and increased overall energy efficiency by 24%.

6G and agriculture

One of the main benefits of 5G and, eventually, 6G is expanding wireless access to rural areas. This opens new sustainability opportunities for the agricultural sector, where chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and animal waste release harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Smart agriculture unlocks new ways to optimize crop production, conserve resources, improve soil health, and monitor livestock, helping farmers reduce their carbon footprint. The same GSMA report revealed that in California — where agriculture accounts for 80% of all water use — solar-powered sensors and an LTE-served network reduced water consumption by 6% and emissions by 5%. And a recent Qualcomm study found that real-time data collected by IoT-enabled drones and sensors resulted in more efficient and accurate pesticide spraying that could reduce overall pesticide use by 50%.

6G and energy

As the world’s population grows, so does the need to manage and reduce fossil fuel consumption. 6G will help the critical transition to renewable energy and further advance the development of smart grids.

Smart grids will enable communities to monitor better increasing energy demands, optimize electrical distribution, and use automation to manage significant variations in loads. The same Qualcomm report found that 5G-connected smart grids will reduce gas and electricity consumption by 12% — and 6G will accelerate that progress.

ICT (Information and Communications Technology)

It is to be recognized that the telecommunications and technology sectors have an outsized influence on the economy and thus have a similarly outsized impact on energy consumption. AT&T estimates that in 2018, its technologies enabled greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions that are twice as large as AT&T’s own entire GHG footprint. It has set a target of increasing 10x by 2025.

The ICT industry already has a large footprint (about 1/10th of global electricity consumption) and is projected to rise significantly. The wireless communication industry, a big part of the ICT sector, has made it a primary 6G objective to reduce energy usage and incorporate sustainability in its operational processes and lifecycle management.

Currently, the Radio Access Network (RAN) consumes a major share of the energy (>50%) of the wireless network architecture. The move towards cloudification is shifting more of the usage to data centers, where there is already tremendous momentum towards ‘greening.’ A variety of techniques, such as smart idling of radios and resource pooling, have already been incorporated into 5G, and more advanced approaches are under consideration for 6G.

Keysight’s commitment to accelerating sustainability through 6G

Corporations play a critical role in supporting global environmental and social prosperity, and at Keysight, we take this role seriously. As the sole test and measurement member of 6G Flagship, Keysight is uniquely positioned to help solve the challenges of 6G. We’ve also partnered with organizations like ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector, the FCC’s Technological Advisory Council, and industry groups across the U.S., Japan, Korea, China, and Europe.

Leveraging our R&D capabilities — as well as our software and hardware solutions for design, simulation, and validation — we aim to accelerate research in each of 6G Flagship’s four strategic areas: wireless connectivity, distributed intelligent wireless computing, device, and circuit technologies, and vertical applications and services. We’ll provide partners with solutions for all frequency bands, cybersecurity, device characterization, network testing, data analytics, artificial intelligence, and techniques to measure and reduce power consumption. Finally, Keysight’s broad industrial expertise will help these groups navigate vital areas such as automotive, the Internet of Things, high-speed digital, and energy.

Like 5G, the next generation of connectivity represents a massive opportunity to impact technology, business, and society. Together with our 6G Flagship partners and other technology partners around the globe, we look forward to defining standards and creating the technological building blocks to deliver a human-centric, sustainability-focused 6G network that changes lives, secures the world, and connects people across the globe.

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