Despite 5G’s dominance, 6G still catches the eye at #MWC23

  • The focus at this year’s Mobile World Congress is still very much about 5G
  • But on the sidelines, 6G definitely has a presence
  • The NGMN Alliance took to the stage at #MWC23 to highlight the role of 6G in addressing the future needs of consumers and enterprises
  • Japan’s NTT added to its 6G partnerships

BARCELONA – #MWC23 – The business and service potential of 5G, which is now being accused of failing to live up to its promises, is still the main focus of the industry in Barcelona this year, but that hasn’t stopped some of the major operators and industry associations highlighting their work on, and developments associated with, 6G. 

At a press and industry briefing here on Tuesday, the Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance (NGMN) used the stage to highlight its efforts across various trends and issues in the telco industry, including work towards fulfilling its vision for 6G.

Michael Irizarry, EVP and CTO of engineering and information technology at UScellular (pictured above), who is also a member of NGMN’s board of directors, admitted that the industry does not yet know what 6G is, how much it’s going to cost and what problems it will be able to solve. 

Despite this, he expressed belief there is a need for the concept to be explored by organisations such as the NGMN. “Here’s what I can tell you – usage is continuing to grow at a rapid pace, with services like fixed wireless access (FWA), automation, autonomous vehicles, so we need to be prepared to support that,” he said.

To hammer home his point, he noted that the telecoms ecosystem is still uncertain as to whether 5G can support some of the new applications that are being contemplated, such as telepresence and immersive video.“We’re not saying it can’t, but we want to be ready,” he emphasised.

Furthermore, as technology transitions, typically taking seven to 10 years, based on previous shifts from 3G to 4G and 4G to 5G, according to Irizarry, now is the time to start considering what customers, industries and the verticals want. “So that if 5G and 5G-Advanced need enhancements, we’re ready for that. And maybe that ends up being what 6G is – some enhancements that we just don’t know yet,” he suggested.

The UScellular technology chief also hailed the NGMN’s efforts to pull together the operator community and the larger value chain to solicit their input and understand  potential use cases in the 6G era. He explained that the alliance’s work is rather based on “a user, operator-driven initiative” so, as opposed to taking a technology-first approach, it concentrates on what the users want.

Specifically, he highlighted the work already done by the organisation in terms of analysing what is driving the potential need for 6G and the use cases that would require support in the future, pointing out that it has already identified and categorised some 50 applications.

The first category tackles enhanced human communication and use cases that would harness the capabilities of extended reality (XR), virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR) and immersive telepresence, for example.

Another forecast is the possibility of robotics and autonomous vehicles collaborating together and with humans, and related services to offer enhanced machine communication. “This is really cool – it’s extreme precision, which you need with robotics. We’re talking about centimetre, maybe even subcentimetre [precision]”, explained Irizarry.

The NGMN also envisages the need for network evolution and, specifically, coverage expansion which, according to Irizarry, are key for areas “where population density is very low and you need to get the coverage out there as economically as you can”.

It wasn’t only the NGMN highlighting 6G developments this week. 

NTT, along with its mobile business NTT Docomo, beefed up its partner portfolio to a quintet of major vendors to experiment with the next-generation technology. Building on R&D collaborations with Fujitsu, NEC and Nokia, the Japanese telco will now also collaborate with Ericsson and Keysight Technologies to conduct 6G trials.

Under its agreement with Ericsson, NTT will start testing new 6G wireless interfaces for mid-band in the 6GHz-15GHz frequencies, as well as sub-terahertz 100GHz bands capable of ultra-fast data transmission. When it comes to Keysight, the companies have united to test radio propagation for ultra-wideband communication using sub-terahertz (above 6GHz) bands.

The Japanese company also intends to conduct further trials, as well as explore options to develop mobile communication technologies with other vendors that “possess special expertise”.

NTT has also contributed towards the verification of various technologies in the 6G domain, such as the use of millimetre and sub-terahertz frequency bands, and bands currently used for 5G.

NTT is reportedly already looking at the data transport infrastructure needed to support 6G services. According to Nikkei Asia, the telco has teamed up with its domestic peer KDDI for the development of technology that conforms to NTT’s innovative optical and wireless network (IOWN) concept for next-generation networks, and the duo aims to use this infrastructure in the 6G era, which is expected to be ushered in around 2030.

- Yanitsa Boyadzhieva, Deputy Editor, TelecomTV

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