6G will achieve terabits-per-second speeds

Initial, upcoming 5G is going to be a disappointment, a University of Oulu researcher says. 6G, with frequencies up to terahertz, will be needed for true microsecond latency and unlimited bandwidth.

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The first of the upcoming 5G network technologies won’t provide significant reliability gains over existing wireless, such as 4G LTE, according to a developer involved in 5G.

Additionally, the millisecond levels of latency that the new 5G wireless will attempt to offer—when some of it is commercially launched, possibly later this year—isn’t going to be enough of an advantage for a society that’s now completely data-driven and needs near-instant, microsecond connectivity.

“Ultra-reliability will be basically not there,” Ari Pouttu, professor for Dependable Wireless at the University of Oulu, told me during a visit to the university in Finland. 5G’s principal benefits over current wireless platforms are touted as latency reduction and improved reliability by marketers who are pitching the still-to-be-released technology.

We think “6G will emerge around 2030 to satisfy the expectation not met with 5G,” Pouttu said. “It will eventually offer terabits per second,” along with microsecond latency.

The school has been a major research partner in millimeter 5G development, alongside Nokia, and is now starting work on 6Genesis, its 6G development program. 6G is also sometimes called 5G Long Term Evolution. The University of Oulu has been promised funding for the program that is the equivalent of U.S. $290 million that will be supplied by the Finish government’s Academy of Finland and other sources, including partners. Collaborators in the eight-year program will include Nokia, BusinessOulu (my host, which paid some of my travel expenses to the UArctic Congress conference last week), and other universities.

Problems with 5G

“Millisecond latency [found in 5G] is simply not sufficient,” Pouttu said. It’s “too slow.”

One of the problems that will be encountered in 5G overall is related to required scalability, he said. The issue is that the entire network stack is going to be run on non-traditional, software-defined radio. That method inherently introduces network slowdowns. Each orchestration, connection or process decelerates the communication.

It’s a problem in part because the thinking is that “there will be 1,000 radios per person in the next ten years.” That’s going to be because the millimeter frequencies that are being used in 5G, while being copious in bandwidth, are short in travel distance. One will need lots of radioheads and antennas—millions—all needing to be connected. And it is why one needs to think up better ways of doing it at scale—hence 6G’s efforts.

Researchers in the University of Oulu’s 6Genesis program, as well as those in the U.S.’s Center for Converged TeraHertz Communications and Sensing (ComSenTer), which I wrote about in June, say frequencies from 100GHz up to terahertz (THz) are the way to go. Frequency bands will be in the tens of gigahertz in that spectrum, Pouttu said. In other words, it will provide never-before-seen levels of bandwidth in conceivably virtually unlimited amounts.

Mobile Edge Computing and Multi-access Edge Computing on the way

Pouttu said we will also begin to observe more of a new form of computing called Mobile Edge or Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) to handle 5G as it transitions to 6G. That’s a network architecture where heavy processing takes place near people on server-cum-base-stations, but most of the final work, such as AI and problem modelling, happens in the mobile device or IoT device somewhere in the vicinity.

“Data is going to be the key,” Pouttu said. The algorithm’s connection needs a trusted, low-latency and high-bandwidth application. That is where 6G comes in.

Pouttu and his team intend to start with the theoretical 802.15.3D IEEE standard. It uses low sub-terahertz frequency spectrum between 252GHz and 325GHz, and it currently exists only as a concept on paper. The academics will attempt to apply it to the personal health, eco-energy, and autonomous transport verticals.

“Humans are almost connected; what is not connected is objects or machines,” said Pouttu. “That’s the road for 5G and 6G.”

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