6G will give our networks the ability to sense. By bouncing signals off objects, the network will determine what’s there, how things are moving – and potentially even what they’re made of. The network becomes our sixth sense, extending our awareness beyond our immediate surroundings.
This sensing capability can be used to map a digital version of the physical world. By interacting with this ‘digital twin’, we could extend our senses to every point the network touches.
We could avoid traffic accidents by sensing unseen cars driving around a corner.
We could interact directly with machines and robots remotely, seeing what they see, hearing what they hear, while directing their actions through simple hand gestures captured by the network.
The network could detect if a vulnerable person has fallen and even “hear” their heartbeat, alerting emergency responders about possible trauma.
Network sensing could be used to provide security in places where cameras aren’t available or allowed, and it could be used to augment camera networks in foggy or dark conditions.
Network sensing could replace complicated input sensors and controllers for VR applications.
Developing this sixth sense will require the support of myriad developing technologies, from AI/ML to joint communication and sensing design. It will also require new spectrum. With near THz frequencies, we can build larger antenna arrays with more narrow beams, achieving greater angular precision. With wider bands, we also get better time resolution of the back reflected signal, and hence better distance accuracy. The network will perceive radio frequency reflections as images similar to the visual images humans perceive with their eyes. Other factors key to network sensing will be 6G’s greater density of cells, advanced MIMO beamforming techniques and AI-driven signal processing capabilities.