Designing the 6G networks of the future

​Just when 5G is being introduced to us common users, researchers are ready to design 6G. Chalmers is one of the stakeholders in a European project that will lay the foundation for the next generation of mobile communication networks. By integrating artificial intelligence, a smart fabric is woven that will connect our physical, digital and personal worlds.​
Expectations are high and the list of wishes is long regarding what 6G communications will be able to perform within the next ten years, or even earlier. 6G is mentioned as the enabler of ‘Internet of Senses’. This means that we will be able to experience Internet applications using all of our five human senses, not only sight and hearing as today. Our homes, offices, factories and cities will be depicted in a constantly updated interactive map, which also predicts what will happen in the real world. We will be able to communicate via holograms and smart surfaces positioned in three dimensions also enabling information about the orientation of objects.

Tommy Svensson
”6G will provide significantly more of everything that 5G offers. In addition, 6G will be an important tool for reaching several of the UN's sustainability goals. All this is enabled by high transmission speeds, low latency, knowledge of the radio environment, positioning and orientation, integrated sensing, network of networks, and by computational power being decentralized in the mobile networks. A key to this is that 6G can ensure energy-efficient, trustworthy, robust and secure communication”, says Tommy Svensson, Professor in communication systems at Chalmers, focusing his research on wireless communications.

The foundation for a global standard 
Europe has always been the leader in developing standards for mobile communications, and 6G is no exception. At the turn of the year, the Hexa-X project will start, funded by the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, Horizon 2020. The aim is to define the technical principles of the 6G system and to lay the foundation for the coming work on a global standard. This will then be the starting point for the telecom industry to develop their products and services.

“It is very gratifying that we at Chalmers once again get the privilege to be assigned to lay the foundation for the standard of a new generation of mobile networks”, says Tommy Svensson, coordinator of Chalmers' participation in Hexa-X, leader of a sub-project within distributed large antenna systems, and also taking part in Hexa-X's work on vision, architecture and system aspects.

Built on artificial intelligence from the start
Already today, algorithms and artificial intelligence are used to optimize mobile networks in various ways, but in 6G, support for AI and machine learning will be available from the start. This means that applications can be trained for complex tasks and perform them in parallel, due to that information and computational power are located closer to the users, further out in the mobile networks.

6G requires that a new radio spectrum is entered, which is a major technical challenge. In order to reach data rates in the scale of Terabit/second and response times as low as 0.1 milliseconds, the signals must be transmitted in the Teraherz range, preferably beyond 300 GHz. This means that the bandwidth will be very high, but also that the range of the radio signals will be very short. The signals will be blocked by walls and other obstacles, which imply the demand for new types of antennas – many small antennas that provide sufficient coverage, but only will be in operation when there is a need of them. Also the base stations will be many more and smaller in size.

“This means that a fabric of smart radio communication is woven, only used when and where there is a task for it to fulfil”, says Tommy Svensson.

“These very narrow and controllable antenna lobes provide new possibilities for precise positioning. For the man in the street, this means that the mobile phone will offer increasingly sophisticated map functions. In the mobile system, the position of a transmitter can be defined in all three dimensions of the room, as well as its orientation, as accurately as less than one centimeter”, says Henk Wymeersch, Professor in communication systems at Chalmers, focusing his research on cooperative systems, and leading the Hexa-X work package on localization and sensing.

Holistic thinking for further sustainable development
“A challenge in the development of 6G technology is that we must think in a much more holistic way”, says Tommy Svensson. “It is no longer a matter of inventing isolated smart functions, rather the design of a whole entity where there are built-in control systems directing how the technology is allowed to be used for the benefit of society and in the best interest of the individual. Aspects of sustainability, environmental considerations, democracy, inclusion and integrity must therefore be integrated into the communication systems, now being developed by researchers and the telecom industry.”

“I think life cycle analyses will be an interesting tool to assess the sustainability of 6G systems. In that way, we can not only understand what important design requirements should be set for 6G, but also analyze the benefits of 6G for digitization of completely new areas”, says Tommy Svensson.

Text: Yvonne Jonsson
Portrait photo: Anna-Lena Lundqvist
Other images: Hexa-X
6G according to Hexa-X

The Hexa-X project aims to connect our human world of intelligence and values, with the digital world of information and a physical world of processes.

Six research challenges to lay the technical foundation for 6G wireless systems:
  • Connecting intelligence: Artificial intelligenceI/Machine Learning technologies need to be a vital and trusted tool for significantly improved efficiency and service experience, serving humans 
  • Network of networks: multiple types of resources need to be aggregated to create a digital ecosystem that grows more and more capable, intelligent, and heterogeneous, eventually creating a single network of networks
  • Sustainability: energy-optimized digital infrastructure for a reduced global ICT environmental footprint, as well as delivering effective and sustainable digitization tools for global industry, society and policymakers
  • Global service coverage: efficient and affordable solutions for global service coverage, connecting remote places
  • Extreme experience: extreme bitrates, extremely low (imperceptible) latencies, seemingly infinite capacity, and precision localization and sensing
  • Trustworthiness: ensuring the confidentiality and integrity of communications and delivering data privacy, operational resilience and security

More about the Hexa-X project
The project brings together key industry stakeholders and academia in Europe to take the lead in advancing 6G. The Hexa-X project starts on 1 January 2021, with a planned duration of 2.5 years. The stakeholders represent the full value-chain of the communication industry, including research institutes and universities, such as Nokia, Ericsson, Intel, Orange, Qamcom and Siemens. From academia Chalmers and the universities of Helsinki (Aalto), Dresden, Kaiserslautern, Pisa, Turin and Oulu are participating.

For more information, contact
Tommy Svensson, coordinator of Hexa-X at Chalmers, and Professor in the Communication systems research group where he is leading the wireless systems research, at the Department of Electrical Engineering

Page manager Published: Wed 06 Apr 2022.