6G era research

Looking generations ahead to the network of the future

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What is 6G?

With every generation of communications technology, the focus of the network changes. The 2G and 3G eras centered on human-to-human communication through voice and text. The 4G era heralded a fundamental shift to the massive consumption of data, while the 5G era has turned its focus on connecting the Internet of Things and industrial automation systems. In the 6G era we will see yet another shift in direction – this time toward people. 6G will bring together the digital, physical and biological worlds, placing human beings at their center.

We can characterize the 6G era in the following ways:

The creation of new worlds

6G technologies will pave the way for new virtual worlds indistinguishable from the physical world. We will be able to interact with and manipulate these virtual environments with ease. Furthermore, we will be able to break down the barriers between the digital and physical, creating a mixed-reality world.

The rise of the augmented human

The 6G era will be the era of augmentation. Physical and cognitive augmentations will make humans endlessly more efficient and productive. The biology of humans will be mapped accurately at every instant and integrated into the digital and virtual worlds.

Unprecedented performance and reliability

This melding of worlds will require an enormous amount of capacity, extremely low latency and extraordinary levels of reliability. Furthermore, 6G will become a ubiquitous technology, used not only for connecting all of the objects around but as a sensor that maps the world around us.

Digital assistance whenever we need it

Knowledge systems will analyze the enormous streams of data generated by our digital, physical and biological worlds, while computing distributed between the cloud and our body area networks will help us navigate that information, helping us make better decisions while automating the mundane tasks of life.

Augmenting human potential in the 6G era – Peter Vetter, President of Bell Labs Core Research

Six key technologies for 6G

There are six potential technology transformations that we expect will play a part in shaping the 6G ecosystem of the future.

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AI/ML air interface

We expect AI and machine learning (ML) to provide a new foundation for air interface design and optimization, enabling self-optimizing transmitters and receivers, cognitive spectrum use and context awareness.

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New spectrum technologies

The use of spectrum will expand to higher bands beyond what 5G requires. In addition, new spectrum-sharing techniques will emerge in the sub-6 GHz bands, where it will become more difficult to find wider swaths of spectrum to support ever increasing demands for speed.

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Network as a sensor

Moving toward 6G, we expect the network to perform various sensing tasks and support high-precision localization with centimeter-level accuracy indoors.

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New network architectures

Different industry verticals will require new architectures that can support increased flexibility and specialization. As the core becomes more distributed and the RAN becomes more centralized, there will be opportunities to reduce cost by converging functions.

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Extreme connectivity

The URLLC service that began with 5G will be refined and improved in 6G to meet more extreme connectivity requirements, including sub-millisecond latency. Network reliability could be enhanced through simultaneous transmission, multiple wireless hops, device-to-device connections and AI/ML.

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Security and trust

A variety of new signal processing techniques and physical-layer security mechanisms are emerging to address security in the mixed-reality world, which will become an integral part of the 6G network.