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Connecting… Futures: The Road to 6G and the Right to Connectivity

Author

Giovanna Guiffrè & Valentina Malcotti

Oct 6, 2023

Hexa-X’s 6G flagship research is shaping the design of European wireless technologies to be environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable, while ensuring competitiveness in the global market.

Information and communication technology (ICT) has led and spread ground-breaking revolutions ever since Marconi’s first wireless telegraph ‘call’ between the UK and Canada in 1901. When almost one hundred years later global roaming appeared, followed by five generations of wireless technologies, the speed, capacity, and overall performance of mobile communication had already transformed our everyday lives.

 

Another technological cycle is around the corner (typical duration: 8-10 years) and European research is busy planning the advent of the sixth generation (6G) of wireless technologies, expected to hit the market in 2030. Through the collaborative efforts of the 5G Public-Private Partnership (5G PPP) and the Smart Networks and Services Joint Undertaking (SNS JU), the European Commission has joined forces with public and private actors, including the ICT industry, academic institutions and research organisations, to enable the evolution of 5G ecosystems and promote 6G research in Europe. Among the EU-funded R&I flagship projects exploring 6G connectivity is the Hexa-X ‘family’ with its two ‘brother’ projects: Hexa-X (Horizon2020 – 5G PPP) and Hexa-X-II (Horizon Europe – 6G SNS JU), both led by Nokia and supported by Ericsson’s technical management. Over a total period of 4.5 years, the Hexa-Xs will produce a blueprint for a sustainable, inclusive, and trustworthy 6G platform able to meet the future needs of serving and transforming society and business.

 

Hexa-X I, which ran from January 2021 to June 2023, established the vision for the next generation of wireless technologies by considering potential use cases and key societal values, aiming for a human-centric network design. Building on the architectural insights provided by Hexa-X, Hexa-X II kicked off in January 2023 with a goal to deliver a system blueprint for a European 6G platform by June 2025.

 

While the USA and Asia may be well-positioned in the global race for future wireless connectivity, Europe's strong foundation in research and innovation, supported by EU funding and enriched by partnerships, enhances its competitiveness, and fosters technological sovereignty.

 

Mikko Uusitalo, Head of Radio Systems Research at Nokia Bell Labs Finland, is the overall lead of the HexaX endeavour (including Hexa-X-II): “our rich consortium, which has grown from 25 to 44 partners over the course of the projects, and our expert advisory group empowered our vision for the design and architecture of the next generation of wireless networks”. Hexa-X partners, who represent key European industry stakeholders, along with the full value chain of future connectivity solutions (network vendors, operators, verticals, and technology providers), as well as research institutes and universities, put their foresight cap on. Their deep knowledge supported the project’s scanning of societal, economic, regulatory, and technological trends, the identification of connectivity drivers, and the selection of use cases for current and new 6G applications.

 

At the heart of Hexa-X's vision for the future is an everyday experience enhanced by the seamless integration of human, digital, and physical worlds. 6G aims to connect these worlds through an ecosystem of networks, sub-networks, and device technologies. This ecosystem has the potential to drive global economic growth while transforming industries and societal spheres such as education, skills, and the labour market.

 

While 4G has enabled and 5G significantly enhanced our ability to consume digital media anywhere, at any time, 6G will deliver a total immersion in virtual worlds, with communication, localisation, sensing, and imaging Source: Freepic coming together in the generation of augmented and mixed realities. We are looking at 6-dimension (6D) experiences, in which the ‘traditional’ 3 spatial dimensions (latitude, longitude, and altitude) are enriched by 3 orientation dimensions.

 

With extreme connectivity and ultra-high data rate, 6G has the potential to power disruptive solutions for industries relying on interactions between machines, humans, and the environment, including automotive, transportation, agriculture, education, healthcare, and urban planning.

 

To ensure that these technologies bring value to society, Hexa-X is adding value-based design to performance-oriented goals for future connectivity networks. The key is to develop 6G around three dimensions of sustainability: environmental, social, and economic.

 

6G networks can be energy-efficient in terms of choice of materials, circularity practices, and operational modes. They can rely on ecological energy sources and optimise overall energy consumption through cloudification and automation. Part of this effort is also supporting sustainability in other sectors. “With its potential for simulation and real-time monitoring thorough digital twins, 6G can become a powerful ally for the twin digital and ecological transition,” Uusitalo explains.

 

Connectivity in 2030 will likely be regarded as a basic human right for accessing equal education, business, and health opportunities (1). Social sustainability is about ensuring inclusive, non-discriminatory network services that provide equal and open access to trustworthy resources and opportunities. Hexa-X aims to ‘connect the unconnected’ and reach underserved populations, whether due to geographical remoteness or financial constraints. “Technology can become more inclusive also by reducing its costs,” Uusitalo explains, “as, in some cases, satellite connectivity is a cheaper way to provide coverage to underserved areas”.

 

Economic sustainability is the ultimate check for a value-based network that achieves innovation, prosperity, and growth without creating burdens for society, the environment, or future generations. Wi-Fi natives will ride the digitalisation wave, with industries becoming ‘smarter’ and consumers wanting increasingly sophisticated services. "Addressing the growing demand for wireless services is a challenge," notes Uusitalo. “End-users expect fast, safe, and efficient networks everywhere, and meeting these expectations should not be taken for granted!”

 

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(1) - Hexa-X_D1.1.pdf

 

This is an article from the Horizon Future Watch Newsletter (Issue 3, September 2023), presented by Foresight on Demand

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