6G Symposium - Day 1 Recap
The kickoff of the first annual 6G Symposium was a huge success, with more than 4000 participants from around the globe registering to hear insights and perspectives on the 6G vision, emerging 6G technologies, and the role of AI in wireless networks. Through panels and presentations, we learned how foundational technologies like blockchain, AI, network coding, and THz may drive a fresh look at what’s optimal for 6G architectures and spectrum sharing policies.
For the first time ever, InterDigital joined ranks with the Institute of Wireless Internet of Things at Northeastern University to kick off the first-of-its-kind 6G Symposium, a two day virtual event dedicated to shaping a clear vision for 6G.
Taking place as we’re beginning to see the earliest phases of commercial 5G, the 6G Symposium kicked off with the important level-setting question: "What’s next?"
The Symposium is dedicated to looking ahead to the next 10 years of research and standard setting to explore the potential 6G holds, what it may become, and the new opportunities it might unlock. There’s a general understanding among stakeholders in this field that 6G development takes time, resources, and a commitment to global cooperation to develop a successful wireless ecosystem. Day 1 of the Symposium helped us to better shape the path ahead.
So what exactly will 6G look like? We know 6G will enable faster delivery speeds, but it will also bring changes to the wireless interface and architecture, introduce new radio models, and support a massive proliferation of devices. Fun Fact: early estimates suggest that by 2030, there will be 500 billion devices across a global human population of roughly 8 billion. That's more than 60 devices for every human on earth. To support this future and bring 6G to the forefront, players from across the wireless ecosystem must collaborate to find the best solutions for this exciting and impending future.
Keynote: AT&T’s Mazin Gilbert
Mazin Gilbert, AT&T VP of Network Analytics and Automation, opened Day 1 of the Symposium with a visionary view of the future beyond 5G. During his keynote address, Gilbert noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has altered people’s primary means of interactions, and the timing of the recent 5G commercialization is somewhat fortuitous because every new generation of wireless was built to adapt to a new way of life. While 5G remains a “mobile” technology, it also has natural characteristics that make it well suited for a world where we are considerably less mobile than before. As we look ahead to 6G, it’s reasonable to assume that we may need very different networks and systems to fulfill our new ways of life. In the future, networks will need sophisticated infusions of AI/ML and certain levels of autonomy to enable them to self-organize. Our networks will need to evolve with our needs, and while 5G networks are more decentralized than their earlier counterparts, future 6G networks will take decentralization to new levels.
In a 6G world, new devices like XR glasses will enable new visual experiences through things like browsing the news, providing real-time performance updates during a morning workout, or help us locate a friend, and the gift shop, at a crowded sporting event. Cars will have sophisticated sensors and intelligence, and live events and concerts will enter our living rooms in exciting and immersive ways. And for those working from home, interactive video conferencing will move beyond two-dimensions and become more immersive.
Throughout his keynote, AT&T’s Gilbert described modern technology’s disruptions in agriculture and industry, including the use of robotics and video surveillance to pinpoint the precise time for harvest and the increasing automation of factories and dynamism of industrial robots. To support these changes, networks will need to become more open and disaggregated. The network will no longer be a closed box, but instead opened through APIs, and enable personalized experience not possible today. Due to the proliferation of the mobile edge cloud, each person’s computing power and storage will follow more closely wherever they go, and network slices will enable and guarantee service for particular use cases.
While exciting, the 6G vision brings significant research challenges as well. To enable the experiences we envision, players from across the ecosystem need to collaborate to optimize spectrum sharing and efficiency, develop new technologies and adaptive learning algorithms, anticipate and mitigate cybersecurity attacks, and address the vital topics of battery life and energy efficiency. In the future, networks will need to be self-organizing to ensure traffic is dynamically optimized across intensely densified deployments.
6G, the next generation of wireless, is still largely a vision. But even today we know that once it takes shape it will open a world of possibility and a wealth of opportunity. As the day continued, the Symposium panelists and speakers explored how.
Panel 1: Shaping Up 6G: Drivers, Use-Cases and KPI Requirements
In many technology visioning exercises, KPIs and driving factors are often determined by technical elements and technology solutions; however, this panel looked beyond those issues to address real world social and economic indicators, many of which have generational consequence, like the industry's impact on climate change and global poverty. Today, most companies recognize that sustainability isn't just a feel-good trend: sustainability, and sustainability in wireless, is good business.
The wireless industry is, for example, approaching the end of the smartphone base station era and entering into an era where devices, only some of which are consumer handsets, connect to a variety of smart surfaces. Panelist Dr. John Smee, Vice President of Engineering at Qualcomm, suggested that from a research standpoint we are halfway through the 5G lifecycle, even though 5G commercialization is beginning in earnest this year. He noted that 6G will bring things like data-driven system design, where we use AI to help design the air interface and help optimize system design and performance.
Samsung SVP and Head of the Advanced Communications Research Center Sunghyun Choi described how new form factors such as XR glasses, VR headsets and hologram devices will be built with low power consumption in mind, while running on networks that use advanced AI and machine learning to optimize energy consumption, among other things.
Virginia Tech professor Walid Saad noted that next generation networks will be more capable of addressing a range of limitations in reliability, mobility and coverage, especially in rural areas, to bring the world more consistent levels of service and availability. Karri Kuoppomaki, Vice President of Technology Development and Strategy at T-Mobile, agreed, sharing that "6G will play critical role in enhancing mobile broadband."
Another interesting driver of 6G identified by the panel is the trend toward standardization of non-terrestrial networks (NTNs), which are beginning to be included in 3GPP Release 17 for 5G, according to Ericsson’s Director of Industry Engagement and Research Afif Ossrrian. NTNs are communications networks that exist in areas not tied directly to land – networks between aircraft, on oceangoing ships, and even in space.
Throughout the discussion, panelists, and industry at large, share a consensus that radio access networks are a major consumer of energy. This panel explored how radio access networks can become more efficient by becoming smarter through the use of AI or with the use of technologies that put certain devices in low power states when they aren’t needed/in use. This method can both reduce network traffic and save considerable power, even in massively dense IoT networks, while the use of a shared spectrum will augment the efficiency of radio access networks.
Panel 2: Understanding the 6G Tech Landscape
Since the beginning of wireless, each new generation has introduced a key technology that enabled its growth. The first generation of cellular -- known as 1G -- brought voice communications, 2G brought data, 3G brought broadband, and 4G brought mobile video. We have yet to determine the "killer app" for 5G, but it utilizes the well-known "triangle of technologies" model to determine new 5G applications. Each corner of the triangle represents one technology ideal and includes: enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC), and massive machine type communications (mMTC). While it is too soon to definitively determine the technologies 6G will deliver, the panelists shared their views on some emerging trends.
Prabhakar Chitrapu, Chair of the Small Cell Forum, outlined the technologies, deployments and services that come along with each wireless generation. As we move from one generational era to the next, the deployments and services from the prior generation must first mature, then new technologies are introduced, after which the deployments and services mature again, and the cycle repeats.
According to Takehiro Nakamura, SVP and General Manager of NTT DoCoMo, the 6G era will be a time of extremes: extreme high throughput, extreme coverage, extreme low energy and low cost, extreme low latency, extreme high reliability, and extreme massive connectivity. These extremes may become the defining feature of 6G, moreso than any single defining technology. In addition, he shared that 6G may be defined by new network topologies that emphasize advancements in areas like device-to-device communications and the addition of NTNs.
Following the trend of 5G, experts expect 6G to continue the evolution toward software-defined networking. As industry moves away from proprietary eNodeB and closed, telephony-based core architecture towards a distributed, user-defined, cloud and commodity hardware-based model in 5G, these evolutions and focus on open architecture and open standards will likely continue. "The sea change here is de-coupling the technology from the architecture," said Larry Peterson, CTO of the Open Network Foundation.
When it comes to spectrum, 6G is positioned to find ways to exploit new spectrum and more aggressively utilize the spectrum that is available. Quantum computing will play a role in 6G as well, albeit a potentially paradoxical one. On the one hand, quantum encryption, storage, and possibly even blockchain technology will help make aspects of 6G a reality. On the other, quantum can also pose new cybersecurity threats, possibly even before it becomes an asset.
Lastly, the panel was somewhat divided when determining which standard will introduce 6G, but most panelists agree that Release 19 or 20 will be the earliest true 6G standard.
Panel 3: The Role of AI/ML in 6G Wireless Systems
AI and machine learning are the hottest topics in wireless today, and it is a topic that grows in interest, and complexity, as we move beyond 5G. During the “Role of AI/ML in 6G Wireless Systems” panel, DeepSig CTO Tim O'Shea described the evolution by saying, "ML & AI technology is behind all of these: device density, spectral and spatial efficiency and optimization, data driven AI applications, reliability and QoS, bandwidth, latency, energy efficiency and ultra-massive and distributed MIMO." In next generation networks, complex AI/ML algorithms will help maximize hardware efficiency and resources for countless high throughput devices and significantly improve capacity between different network components.
When exploring the use of AI in radio access networks, John Davies, Program Manager at DARPA, shared that while so-called "cognitive radio" is not a new idea, and the early research is encouraging (though questions remain whether the technology exists to make it worthwhile in the near term.) Certain aspects of the new technology require further study, such as how to ensure spectrum sharing is handled fairly and in predictable ways. Davies noted that, "it will be a challenge to figure out how to manage the oversight of these radios." As a result, industry may need new rules, and even new algorithms and data sets, to address that uncertainty.
InterDigital Engineer John Kaewell highlighted that ML will be "a powerful tool in the 6G system designer's toolbox." He described how ML can provide impressive performance gains over traditional systems design approaches. He also noted that for ML to play a major role in 6G wireless, we will need several pieces in preparation, including large and open datasets, advancements in deep learning models and training methods, and ready availability of high computational power.
While the expert panelists shared a diverse array of viewpoints, all agreed on one topic: Industry can't let go of domain knowledge. Despite the allure of these intelligent networks, industry can't just turn every function over to AL/machine learning. To be effective and manageable, AL/ML networks must be built on strong foundations of human knowledge and human oversight – machine learning will surely help with network functions too complex for human management. And that reality will unlock tremendous potential and efficiency.
Fireside Chat with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai
Day 1 of the Symposium rounded out with an engaging fireside chat between InterDigital CEO Bill Merritt and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
In a wide-ranging and frank discussion, the two discussed the ways the FCC's role has changed in recent years and how the Chairman expects it, and its responsibilities, to evolve as the industry moves toward 6G. Pai praised the private sector for stepping up to deliver on the promise of 5G, and particularly highlighted the United States' leadership role in the global standards development.
Throughout the discussion, the pair discussed topics as specific to the industry as precision agriculture and as broad as the importance of standardization. In a lively discussion on spectrum, the Chairman highlighted the FCC's somewhat diplomatic role in helping carriers work together to solve spectrum availability challenges in recent years.
A pressing question perhaps on everyone's mind was the influence of China in the wireless ecosystem. The Chairman explained how the FCC's position toward companies like Huawei and ZTE was not about singling out those companies, but instead establishing a risk-based framework to protect the interests of the American people. Moreover, he highlighted that issues of security and privacy, and those like rural broadband access, were not partisan issues, but instead American issues in need of a unified solution.
The fireside chat ended the first day of the 6G Symposium on a very positive note, ending with a reminder of the importance of open standards while encouraging innovation and developing new technology solutions to emerging problems in the next evolution of wireless – 5G, 6G, and beyond.
Join us for Day 2 of the 6G Symposium for a deeper dive into spectrum sharing, experimental research, and all things 6G. Please visit www.6gsymposium.com for more information.