6G Symposium Recap: Keynote by National Science Foundation's, Thyaga Nandagopal and Fireside Chat with NIST Director Dr. Walter G. Copan
With a successful kickoff to the inaugural 6G Symposium, we continued the momentum on Day 2. On Wednesday, a diverse collection of panelists from across industry, academia and government took a deeper look into the many technical and visionary issues facing 6G’s, and the industry at large’s, future.
If you missed Day 1 of the Symposium, a recap of the full day is available here, and recordings of the sessions will be made available soon.
Day 2 began with a brief synopsis of the Symposium’s key takeaways by InterDigital's Doug Castor and Northeastern University's Tommaso Melodia, highlighting some of the hundreds of questions received from the more than 4500 event registrants. The organizers then turned the stage to Dr. Thyaga Nandagopal, Deputy Division Director for the National Science Foundation, to deliver the day's keynote address.
Keynote Session: Wireless Spectrum for NextG
Dr. Nandagopal's remarks, "Wireless Spectrum for NextG" began the second day of the 6G Symposium on a more contrarian note: he quickly introduced the concept he calls "NextG" – as opposed to 6G – which he says is after 5G because "by the time people switch to the next generation, that's when the real explosion of the growth and the killer apps takes place."
He gave a preview of one of the day's main themes – spectrum – highlighting that while we know 5G will use spectrum up to the 50 GHz band, the “NextG” will probably begin above 50 GHz. Looking ahead to the upper limit of that spectrum for 6G/NextG, it remains unclear where that upper limit is. This lack of clarity he described provided a launching pad for the fascinating perspectives shared by the panelists throughout the day.
Dr. Nandagopal went on to share that historically in wireless, the computational power curve has been accelerating faster than the availability of spectrum. This reality has brought significant challenges for the industry, as well as dramatic opportunities for innovation, particularly in the areas of spectral efficiency. As the industry moves toward higher frequency bands and greater availability of spectrum, this raises new questions. Historically, higher frequencies meant faster and better technology, and certainly more network capacity, and smaller antennas meant more compact devices. "While these were historically true," said Nandagopal, highlighting major spectrum reallocations dating back as far as the 1940s in the U.S., "many of these things will not be true in the sub-6GHz millimeter wave bands used in 5G."
The proliferation of radio technologies means that spectrum is scarce. Technology is one way the industry has traditionally addressed that scarcity, because moving incumbent users to different frequencies is very hard and takes tremendous time and resources. Furthermore, it takes time to try new methods of spectrum allocation. But, just as with any innovation, where there's a will there's a way.
Spectrally-speaking, there is currently a bit of "beachfront" spectrum available, meaning the most desirable, and also most scarce, spectrum in the 600MHz to 6GHz range. Nandagopal expanded the beach analogy to say that "if we dredge some sand and expand the beach, we can move into the 6-7GHz bands, then add spectrum up to the 10GHz band." This kind of innovation, especially if we further expand the range into the 20GHz band, will allow the industry to reap the benefits of mid-band usage and high spectral efficiencies. From there, with another 4GHz of spectrum, we can see better peak rates and more efficiency from massive MIMO. At even higher frequencies – reaching the mmWave range from 30 to 300 GHz – there would be enormous bandwidth gains that we don't yet know how to use. These high frequencies present a truly greenfield opportunity. In the Terahertz range, above 300GHz up to 3THz, we’ll inevitably see new challenges emerge and power will present an enormous challenge, but over time breakthroughs will happen.
Looking historically, Nandagopal noted that the current model of using shared spectrum in tandem with unlicensed spectrum is essentially the same model the United States has used, more or less unchanged, since the early 1990s. Through that historical lens, he implored the audience to look at a wide-open future.
"Imagine if we had a set of unlicensed and unrestricted frequencies spanning low, mid and high bands. Imagine a world where devices can self-identify the desired swath of frequencies and power levels they need to get their data transmitted," he illustrated, going on to explain that AI and machine learning would help us achieve such a vision, and the significant government and private investment currently underway in this exciting arena.
Dr. Nandagopal received the day’s first question about quantum computing, responding that he felt quantum computing was indeed coming, but not as soon as many might have hoped. He cautioned that quantum computing was still at least 10 years, if not 15 years, away from full realization, and probably 25-30 years away from reaching widespread commercial use. More encouragingly, he shared that while quantum computing would help solve complex problems of the future, there remain “low hanging fruit” challenges for the wireless industry to address in the near term while quantum matures.
Dr. Nandagopal concluded his remarks with a simple statement: "There's more than enough spectrum to go around, but there's a need to innovate, and to leverage R&D." We agree and look forward to many years of exciting research and development on the next generations of wireless technology.
Fireside Chat with NIST Director Dr. Walter D. Copan
To share the U.S. government perspective on the path and pursuit to excellence in science, technology, and research, NIST Director and Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology Dr. Walter Copan engaged in a fireside chat on the U.S. technology roadmap, moderated by Northeastern University Senior Vice Provost for Research David Luzzi.
Dr. Copan began the discussion by sharing that standards development is a priority for NIST. "Our focus is on American innovation and to advance industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life," he said. The organization places a significant focus on advanced communications technology and standards for 5G and beyond, with the goal of strengthening America's global competitive position. This message closely follows those shared during Day 1’s fireside chat with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
Professor Luzzi began the conversation by asking about NIST's position on, and involvement in, disaster resilience, an area where the wireless industry has shown some need for improvement. Dr. Copan described how the agency is applying its experience in disaster resilience, with a focus on standards, the future of supply chain integrity, and looking at lessons learned. "We seek to learn from failure points," he said. "From there we work on building recovery models."
The conversation then returned to one of the day’s hottest topics: spectrum sharing. Dr. Copan noted, "we are very excited about work that's come out of NASCTN - the National Advanced Spectrum and Communications Test Network," adding that "this work has provided tools for the co-existence of radar and 5G mmW models, and related use cases." He went on to describe how the research and standards work in the mid-band is essential, and how CBRS use cases have provided important validated datasets.
Dr. Copan reminded audiences that the NIST encourages public participation, noting that their datasets are available for research purposes. "Some data we have needs to be anonymized for privacy purposes, but generally our data is available," Dr. Copan said. "Members of the alliance get full benefit, but at a high level all of that information is broadly available, and NASCTN provides a rich data source as well."
To close out the day’s discussions, the focused shifted from considerations for future research to our current reality. The United States has had a relative slow start in 5G, and has a new opportunity to overcome that hurdle and improve the U.S.’s current leadership position 5G. Dr. Copan outlined efforts on the 5G deployment road map, highlighting the transparent ways the federal government is working on the roadmap. "Many of the lessons have been taken to heart," Dr. Copan said. "ATIS has announced a 6G alliance, and that should be a strong opportunity as well.” He added that NIST supported the initiative, of which InterDigital is a Founding Member. One outgrowth of this work, he added, is to encourage stakeholders to look at the future of U.S. innovation and the legislative and policy changes it can enable. He suggested that policymakers could incentivize work by the private sector and encourage collaborative research and innovation, an area where the U.S. has lagged behind its global counterparts at times in the past. Dr. Copan ended on the encouraging note that, on the whole, the NIST is looking to incentivize research and innovation and other strategies in ways on par with, and exceeding, the country’s peers.
To recap the key take-aways and most thought-provoking presentations from the 6G Symposium, please join us for a 6G Symposium Sync Up webinar on Wednesday, November 5 at 1:00 p.m. ET, hosted with Fierce Wireless. Symposium organizers Doug Castor from InterDigital and Tommaso Melodia from Northeastern University will join industry experts to digest and make sense of the event’s varying perspectives on the 6G roadmap, the role of AI and Machine Learning in 6G networks, spectrum sharing approaches, public-private research partnerships, and much more. You can register here.
Check back later this week for more highlights and new updates about the 6G Symposium.