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Why I'm Keeping My Sights on 6G

6G, person holding globe, technology

In 2022, the wireless industry is deploying 5G infrastructure, rolling out more and more 5G devices, and adding subscribers apace. 5G technology that supports 3GPP Release 16 (their second release of 5G specifications) is making its way into the marketplace, but for all intents and purposes, 5G is still in its infancy.  So why, you might ask, am I setting my sights on 6G?

Wireless generations up to this point have followed a ten-year cycle.  The diagram below shows a simplified version of what a typical cycle looks like.

6G circular flow chart of a communications standards development cycle

In the 3GPP, requirements for 6G will start to be gathered in the Release 19 timeframe, the first study items for 6G are being discussed for inclusion in Release 20, and this would lead to having the first work items for 6G in Release 21.  Today, 3GPP is working on Release 18 after freezing Release 17 back in March.  If they continue to make progress at this rate, the work for Release 20 will begin in earnest in 2024.  A typical 3GPP release takes 12 to 18 months to complete, and another 12 to 18 months to then be implemented in production networks.  This means that early 6G demonstrations could happen in 2026.   Despite the standard being 6 years away, we have been part of active 6G research since at least 2019. The research and technology trends emerging for 6G have more visibility than previous generations at this stage of the lifecycle.

This is the reason why now, at Keysight, we’re keeping our sights on 6G.

6G: Trends to Look For

There are 4 trends in 6G that catch my attention—new spectrum technologies, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), the pervasive use of digital twins, and new network architectures. 

New Spectrum Technologies: 6G will push into sub-THz frequency bands, unlocking new applications like joint communications and sensing.  Often when we think about 6G, sub-THz spectrum is the first thing that comes to mind, but I encourage you to not buy into this idea.  6G will continue to make use of the spectrum below 6 GHz and the industry will continue the innovation we have seen at FR2 bands.  There is also significant research under way exploring the  “upper-mid-band” between 10 and 24 GHz.  It’s a well-known secret that spectral efficiency gains have been modest over the last 20 years so 6G will continue to evolve MIMO like ultra-massive and distributed MIMO techniques to address this.

AI and ML Networks: Artificial intelligence (AI), especially in the guise of machine learning (ML) is making its way into 5G systems already, aiding in the design of RF front ends, assisting with MIMO pre-coding, and even assisting RAN layout planning.  This work will continue, but 6G presents the opportunity for us to use ML not only for optimization but for the creation of the entire PHY.  This could give us a dynamic PHY that could adjust modulation and coding, for example, based on channel conditions.  AI and ML are also of interest to look at network orchestration.  They can look at usage patterns to determine when cells can be turned off or when additional resources are needed to support heavy usage like for sporting events.  Even security-related applications can be improved given AI’s ability to detect anomalies in large data sets.

Digital Twins: This modern form of advanced simulation will provide a high-fidelity digital environment for testing new features to reduce the risks that come with deploying software and even new hardware on a live network. 

New Network Architectures: The decentralization and cloudification of the RAN being driven by the Open RAN movement will continue in 6G.  But other, maybe less obvious, new (and not so new) network topologies will make their way into 6G as well.  For example, work for non-terrestrial networks (NTN) made tremendous progress in Release 17 but implementation is still in the future.   Announcements from Apple to include satellite emergency texting with its latest iPhone and the collaboration between T-Mobile and Starlink are good indications that NTN is a desirable feature and likely to see continued investment going forward.

NTN is one of several great examples of a technology that started in 5G but is now looking like a 6G technology.  What will be 5G versus what will be 6G may be a little unclear today, but to some extent, not so important.  Wireless standards, use cases, and technology has been advancing since they were first invented and will continue to do so. 6G gives us a nice opportunity to break backward compatibility and introduce new innovations but thinking there is a hard and fast line in differentiating 5G and 6G is incorrect. 6G will be both an evolution of the work started in 5G and a revolution beyond anything we have seen before. 

6G: Why I’m Excited About It

Personally, I’m excited at the societal benefits and advances that this new generation of communication will bring. While often not easily predictable at first, each new communication standard has found a way to profoundly touch the way we live, work, and interact. I cannot say how yet, but I know that 6G will follow the same path and I am excited to know Keysight will contribute to make it happen.

As we go into the last quarter of 2022, I am excited to be returning to some of my favorite events in person again after 2+ years in hybrid or remote mode.  My team and I will be speaking in a variety of keynotes, panels, and presentations as well as showing off proof of concepts of 6G testbeds.  Tune into your favorite social media channels to stay up to date on how we’re keeping our #SightsOn6G

Learn more on how Keysight has its sights set on 6G

 

About the Author

Dr. Giampaolo Tardioli leads Keysight’s 6G and related growth initiatives, including quantum computing. Giampaolo joined Hewlett-Packard in 1998 as a test engineer and has served over the last 20 years in a variety of senior management roles in planning, R&D, quality, and operations—both at the division and business unit levels. He holds an M.Sc., in Electrical Engineering from the Universita’ Politecnica delle Marche, Italy, and a Ph.D. in Computational Electromagnetics from the University of Victoria, Canada.

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