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Five Key Breakthroughs Needed To Make 6G A Reality

Ron Nersesian is Chairman and CEO of Keysight Technologies

It’s still a decade away, yet we’re already hearing a lot about 6G. This next generation of wireless technology is expected to bring even faster speeds, lower latency and more bandwidth to instantly deliver massive amounts of data across decentralized, intelligent networks.

6G is now in the research phase, and while it’s a bit early to name the killer apps, some predict it will become an integral part of our society. One focus for 6G is a further step toward “always-on” and “zero-lag” communications, including with very high data rates. This will significantly increase productivity and drive new opportunities in automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT).

We can also expect 6G technology to enable new businesses that we can’t predict. Think of how 4G’s release in 2009 enabled mobile-focused companies like Instagram, Uber, DoorDash, Venmo and so many others. From the consumer perspective, 6G will make mobile communications an even more fundamental part of our daily lives, including driving to work, educating our children, cooking dinner, seeking healthcare, shopping, banking and more. 6G will also enhance emergency and disaster response and have major applications in scientific research.

It’s all very exciting, but we have a long way to go before 6G is a reality. In order to deliver on the promise of 6G, we first must concentrate on five key breakthroughs.

1. Rethinking Seamless Networks Through Technical Innovation

6G requires major innovations across wireless connectivity, AI-enabled networks, device and circuit technologies and distributed intelligent computing. Even though 5G is a global standard, seamless integration of all wireless networks (from Bluetooth to 5G), wireline networks (from LAN to WAN) and even non-terrestrial networks remains elusive.

6G requires next-generation radio technologies that enable seamless use of these systems and flexibility depending on location and demand. And while AI is already being used in a wide range of industrial applications today, we need to make AI an integral part of 6G network architecture to optimize the performance, efficiency and flexibility of complex 6G networks. Finally, continued innovations in IoT, enhanced mobile broadband and ultra-reliable communications are critical to building the foundation for 6G.

2. Creating Global Industry Standards

While industry players work to evolve and enhance 5G standards, we must build the foundation and framework for the next generation. It’s too soon for specifics, but the framing for both the evolution and revolution of 6G must be set. A single global standard that applies to all industries and geographies will ensure consistency and economy of scale in the 6G rollout.

We must come together to evaluate and evolve 5G standards through joint projects, trials and demonstrations to anticipate the needs of 6G. Innovative initiatives like the 6G Flagship program, a global research and co-creation ecosystem for 5G adoption and 6G innovation, is already bringing together a community of industry stakeholders to develop the fundamental technologies needed for 6G. These international collaborations will help minimize geopolitical tensions that lead to competing standards and technologies, ensuring that 6G will be accessible to everyone.

3. Taking A Proactive Approach To Cybersecurity

Each new mobile wireless generation has to address a two-fold cybersecurity challenge: 1) address vulnerabilities inherent in the previous generation, and 2) address new vulnerabilities created by the new generation’s expanded threat surface. 5G has better encryption and security architecture than 4G but also will be used in a much wider array of applications with more connected devices. The vision for 6G is an even more elaborate set of use models and is thus a bigger target for dynamic, software-based cyber threats. And as IoT grows, each of the billions of connected devices across networks represents a potential entry point for attackers.

All 6G participants — from mobile carriers to suppliers and their customers to over-the-top (OTT) application developers — need to implement new security, testing and training standards to secure networks at all levels. Robust standards, network security, test and visibility solutions will help de-risk 6G development and operation across the ecosystem. As an industry, it’s our responsibility to design cybersecurity into the software architecture and development lifecycle, with built-in protections that identify vulnerabilities and help networks quickly recover in the event of a breach.

4. Enabling Innovation, Accessibility And Safety Through Policy

Policymakers have the opportunity to build the regulatory foundation for 6G starting today. In partnership with industry leaders, they need to create policies that enable industry and protect people and their data across mission-critical applications such as autonomous vehicles, healthcare, the military, smart cities and more.

We’re seeing rising social, educational and economic inequalities between those who have internet access and those who don’t. Early visions for 6G set by Europe’s Hexa-X project aim to close that digital divide, but making it accessible to rural or low-income areas requires public-private collaboration.

5. Empowering The Next Generation Of Engineers

To make 6G a reality, we need to train the next generation of researchers, scientists, physicists and engineers. Electrical engineering, from digital to radio to semiconductors, will continue to be vital in this field. In addition, tomorrow’s connectivity problem-solvers will need a holistic, multidisciplinary education to dive into a career that covers a multitude of technologies. Corporations and educational institutions should partner to close the skills gap by increasing interest and skills in STEM subjects, as well as highlighting the unique and rewarding opportunity to build the future of wireless technology. 

It’s Not Too Early To Prepare For 6G

While 6G is just in the research phase today, overcoming each of these hurdles will take time. With the 5G rollout already underway, it’s not too soon to start planning for 6G. Leaders across the private and public sectors are coming together to develop infrastructure, new technologies and standards that support the countless innovations enabled by 6G. Now more than ever, we must act to sustain the momentum of 5G and pave the way for 6G.


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