The difference between 5G and 6G
One key aspect where future 6G technology will differ from 5G is softwarization, as several features will become pure software solutions in the 6G era, Chen Chang, Strategic Business Development Director at National Instruments (NI), told RCR Wireless News.
“5G takes the first steps with its split architecture. Open RAN is pushing heavily to standardize interfaces to allow mix and match from different suppliers instead of having incumbents as one-stop-shop. Standardized interfaces and softwarization, which allow network operators to try things out with little investments before massive roll-out, will be core tenets of 6G,” the executive said.
“Early research on enabling technologies for 6G is already beginning and will provide critical input to the standardization process. So while we are still several years away from 3GPP work beginning on 6G, for researchers and scientists it definitely makes sense to not just be talking about 6G, but to be planning and experimenting as well,” the executive added.
The role of THz and sub-THz frequencies
Chang also noted that research has already begun, for example into the use of sub-Terahertz frequencies or the integration of sensing and communication in the wireless network. “Findings and demonstrations from this early research are essential to understand what’s technically feasible and worth pursuing through standardization, but we will also need to understand what’s viable from a commercialization perspective in terms of cost and use case. 6G standardization is expected to start in 2025 targeting rollouts beginning in 2030.”
The executive also highlighted that 6G functionality will be introduced over multiple releases. “In some cases, we may even see some early versions of features get pulled into 5G-Advanced releases, depending on market demand.”
“In some ways 6G is going to be an extension of 5G – higher data rates, more devices, enabling more use cases like wireless cognition, immersive extended reality, e-health, – but in other ways, we expect to see a more fundamental shift away from human-centric communication toward machine-centric communication. With advances in technologies like AI/ML and integration of sensing with communication, the network will be able to make many more decisions without human input, optimizing for outcomes based on application,” Chang said.
Commenting about the work being carried out by NI in the 6G field, Chang said that the company is actively working on several key areas related to 6G research, including OTA measurements, testing of ML-trained systems and higher frequency, wider bandwidth test solutions.
The executive also said that NI is a founding member of the Next G Alliance and NYU Wireless Industrial Affiliate member.
Regarding the spectrum requirements for the deployment of future 6G networks, Chang noted that sub-6 GHz frequencies will remain the mainstay, especially with the mid-band frequencies being put into use, while mmWave rollout and adoption will also continue. “Sub-THz bands are gaining a lot of attention, but for which use cases they’re technically and commercially viable is still being proven out. Unlicensed bands and spectrum sharing between 6G/5G/4G, but also with WiFi and satellite services, will play a much more important role compared to 5G,” he added.
RCR Wireless News published an editorial report about future 6G technology dubbed “Is it really time to start talking about 6G?”, in which key industry leaders and analysts talk about the initial efforts towards the future development of 6G. Click here to access the report.