The road to 6G will long and challenging, but collaboration is key: Samsung Research exec
With 5G rollouts still very much underway but having made significant global progress, the industry is beginning to turn its attention to the development of 6G technology. In the slightly edited conversation with RCR Wireless News below, Dr. Sunghyun Choi, the corporate executive vice president of the Advanced Communications Research Center at Samsung Research, discusses the current state of 6G research, what the new technology will enable and what the roadmap for getting us there might look like.
What would you say to those in the industry that claim it’s too early to start talking about 6G?
According to public reports, there will be more than 500 billion machines connected to the Internet by 2030, which is more than 60 times the world’s population, and these machines drive a whole host of different technical requirements beyond simply connecting people. While 5G is getting started, we believe this is the right time to start preparing for 6G.
When we reflect on past generation communications systems, namely, 3G, 4G and 5G, the general consensus is that a new generation of wireless communications technologies is introduced approximately every 10 years. In line with this trend, we can anticipate that 6G will be ready for to begin commercialization around 2030, particularly when we think about the fact that, each generation of wireless technology generally takes about a decade from identifying target services, applications, performance requirements and to conduct the research for the required technologies to actual commercial deployments. What’s more as we work to shape 6G, the industry will need to come together to discuss, collaborate and cooperate and this too takes time.
With all of these considerations in mind, now is absolutely the very time to start talking about and identifying 6G technologies as we prepare for 6G as a key technology that will drive convergence of services among industries.
5G has so much to offer — most of which has yet to even be realized — so what will 6G bring to the table?
Our vision for 6G is to provide “The Next Hyper-Connected Experience for All.” We believe that 6G will be characterized by ultra-wideband, ultra-low latency, ultra-intelligence and ultra-spatialization, which will enable truly immersive extended reality (XR), high-fidelity mobile holograms and digital replicas anytime, anywhere.
With the 6G era expected to connect as many as 500 billion machines, we’ll see vehicles, appliances and even the buildings around us being connected to this super-fast communications network, anytime and anywhere. We’re already seeing today how XR devices and services such as VR and AR are being used, and digital replication technology is being harnessed in industrial IoT. The possibilities enabled by using today’s software, hardware, and communications have begun. In a world where 6G technology is universal, those truly immersive XR and high-fidelity mobile holograms will begin to bloom, and as we bring together the virtual and real worlds, we will be able to safely and more easily address problems encountered in the real world.
What elements needs to be in place, whether that’s technology, standards or partnerships, before 6G can become a reality?
With 6G we have a chance to learn from the challenges of 5G and its predecessors, and it’s clear that standards and industry partnership will be key to ensuring the network’s success. The road to 6G will be a long one, and not without its challenges, but collaborating with industry, academia and governments we will be able to together bring 6G to commercialization.
The development of various technologies is fundamental, and we are encouraged that many of our industry partners are joining us in these efforts with an ethos of open innovation. Following on from our previous collaborations, we will continue, along with our valued partners, to identify key solutions in order to successfully commercialize 6G technology.
When it comes to standardization of communications technologies, the International Telecommunication Union Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) – a UN agency must first define the 6G vision and the technical performance requirements, which is then followed by the work of standard development organizations such as 3GPP to establish technical specifications to meet these requirements. The ITU-R’s 6G vision will provide a global direction and roadmap for the technology, service, spectrum and commercialization, and we anticipate that the ITU-R 6G Vision Group will define the 6G vision including target services and capabilities by mid next year, then ITU-R will define the detailed technical performance requirements around 2024-2026 timeframe.
The specification development of 6G technology within 3GPP is expected to begin around 2025, aiming to deliver the first release of 6G technical standards by 2028. While it is essential to develop outstanding technologies, it is also equally important to form a consensus on 6G technologies in the standardization process to successfully achieve 6G.
What is Samsung doing to get us there?
Along with our partners, we will focus on undertaking research into how to successfully commercialize 6G technology and coupled with our research into the next level of hyper-connected experience, we will continue our research to improve ultra-high-capacity data transmission with ultra-low latency, and to simplify future network deployment. We are convinced that research collaboration with industry and academia will accelerate the realization of our 6G vision to provide the next level of hyper-connected experiences in all areas of our lives.
Samsung is already actively contributing to the technological innovation of 6G technologies, as well collaborating across industry and academia. For example, the 6G Vision Group in ITU-R is chaired by a Samsung engineer who represents Republic of Korea given that ITU-R convenes national representatives to develop international standards. We also recently hosted the 1st Samsung 6G Forum with eight distinguished speakers and panelists from both academia and industry as part of our commitment to open collaboration.
What can you share about current 6G research?
As Samsung can offer a wide variety of products that span the entire communications spectrum from smartphones and network solutions to chipsets, which gives us a unique perspective on the candidate technologies that will be fundamental to the success of 6G — some of which we already introduced in our 6G whitepaper in 2020.
We have been working on many of these technologies since 2019, and shared Samsung’s progress and findings in 6G research recently at our 1st Samsung 6G Forum on May 13, 2022, including:
THz Band Communication (sub-THz): THz spectrum is considered a candidate band for 6G. Samsung has demonstrated a 6G THz wireless communications prototype with beamforming capability and has explored the potential of the THz spectrum application for 6G wireless communications by achieving data transfer rates of 12 Gbps at 30 meter distance (indoor) and 2.3 Gbps at 120 meter distance (outdoor).
Reconfigurable Intelligent Surface (RIS): High frequency signals generally have short propagation distance and can’t pass through obstacles, thus leading to limited coverage. Samsung has developed an RIS technology that can steer or reflect the wireless signal to a desired direction by using a metamaterial lens or surface, to improve coverage.
Cross Division Duplex (XDD): In mobile communications, a mobile phone has smaller transmission power than a base station which limits the possible communication distance. Samsung has demonstrated that the propagation distance of a mobile phone’s signal can be improved twice over with XDD.
Full Duplex: Samsung has improved data transmission speed by 1.9 times through full duplex technology that enables simultaneous transmission and reception in the same frequency by removing the self-interference between them.
Al-Based Nonlinearity Compensation (Al-NC): A severe distortion can occur when the signal transmission power increases to enlarge the propagation distance, resulting in communications failure. By utilizing Al technologies to compensate the distortion at the receiver, the high-speed communication distance can be improved by 1.9 times.
Al-Based Energy Saving (Al-ES): More than 10% of base station energy consumption can be saved with the Al technology that minimizes power consumption by turning part of base stations off and on according to the amount of data traffic.
What role will technologies like AI and ML have in 6G?
We expect AI/ML will play a key role in 6G, making 6G AI-native, comprehensive and end-to-end. As such, 6G will be developed with AI/ML in mind from the design phase so that it will be inherent across the entire network ecosystem across the user applications, network solutions, and computing devices including edge and cloud servers.
In particular, we are expecting the following two directions to shape, namely, AI for network and network for AI.
AI for Network: The cellular wireless system has evolved over recent decades. As a result, the current system itself is already very complicated, requiring an exponentially increasing amount of effort to further optimize operations and improve performance. New physical layer technologies being investigated for 6G include extreme MIMO (X-MIMO), utilization of new spectrum including upper mid-band (6-24 GHz) and sub-Terahertz (92-300 GHz) band, and advanced duplex technologies incorporating the FDD, TDD, full duplex and cross-division duplex (XDD) in a single framework. Designing, integrating and optimizing them into the current system consumes a significant amount of resource, hampering the rapid evolution of the system.
We foresee AI/ML playing a key role to address such challenges. Conventional signal processing blocks at both the transmitter and the receiver level will be redesigned to incorporate AI features. MNO network architecture will be also revisited to support AI-based network operations in an end-to-end and holistic manner. As for network operations, AI will also realize site-specific automated base-station optimization.
As we look at some examples of what that automation looks like in practice, AI-based energy saving (AI-ES) of base stations, which I mentioned earlier, are a strong example of AI-based optimization of network operations. We also believe that AI will provide customized operations for each base-station by observing network status, and recently shared our work on AI-based nonlinearity compensation (AI-NC) that corrects signal distortion, introduced by the non-linear characteristics of the transmitter’s power amplifier at the receiver-side. The AI-NC technology enhances received signal quality allowing the coverage extension and data rate increase of high data rate communication. Beyond these particular examples, we’re working hard on finding solutions to many other challenges.
Network for AI: As I mentioned earlier, the 6G network will provide seamless, reliable and enhanced performance connectivity for AR/VR and the Metaverse — technologies that are quickly gaining pace. AI is an integral part of those services, and 6G should be able to guarantee QoS/QoE for AI-native services. Given that gathering data, training and validating models, distributing the trained model, and even adjusting already-deployed models in real-time are time-sensitive, bandwidth-consuming tasks, supporting AI-native services will be one of the major requirements in 6G. Moreover, other 6G use cases such as robotics and autonomous driving vehicles will require the same AI-native services.