Nokia, DoCoMo and NTT hype 6G ahead of MWC

6G over a digital city

Finnish kit vendor Nokia has teamed up with Japanese firms DoCoMo and NTT to showcase what the claim are key technological milestones on the path to 6G.

The first of these milestones involves sticking AI into the radio air interface, ‘effectively giving 6G radios the ability to learn’, and the second is about using new sub-terahertz (sub-THz) spectrum which apparently boosts network capacity.

The technologies have been developed as proofs of concept at Nokia Bell Labs in Stuttgart, Germany, and will be demonstrated at MWC later this month. We’re told these are critical for exploring for future 6G networks, and could pave the way for ‘new immersive metaverse and extended reality (XR) experiences and a new generation of mobile applications.’

By pairing an AI-based learned waveform in a transmitter with a deep-learning receiver, boffins were able to design a ‘learning air interface that transmits data efficiently under many different scenarios.’ This is supposed to reduce signalling overhead and produce up to a 30% improvement in throughput.

We’re also told it will grant 6G networks the flexibility to adapt to the type of connection being demanded at any given time. By way of explanation the release says: “In the public network, an AI-enhanced network can provide an optimized connection for a pedestrian in an XR session as well as an emergency vehicle traveling at high speed.”

The firms say sub-THz bands (100GHz and above) have never been designated for cellular use because of their propagation characteristics, but new beamforming could open up those frequencies to future 6G networks. The trio of firms were apparently able to demonstrate a 25 Gbps connection on a single 256QAM stream over a carrier frequency of 144 GHz doing just that.

“Accessing the sub-THz bands would inject enormous capacity into 6G networks. The sub-THz bands won’t just improve overall capacity, they will allow 6G networks to support the most bandwidth intensive future use cases requiring multi-gigabit average connections,” explains the release.

And in case you weren’t excited about 6G in general, it adds: “Nokia believes 6G will not just build on existing technologies and systems but expand and transform what a network can do. It will fuse the human, physical and digital worlds to liberate our innate human potential.”

Peter Vetter, President of Bell Labs Core Research at Nokia added: “For the 6G era, we are using communication as a starting point. Networks will think, sense and act, and they will become the nexus point that bridges our digital and physical realities. DoCoMo and NTT share our 6G vision, and together we’re doing the fundamental research that will breath life into that future.”

It’s inevitable of course when an industry organises new technology in progressively numerical chunks that 6G will increasingly be spoken about at conferences and press releases as the months and years go by. And of course the wider tech world in general is neck locked towards the future – selling the next big thing is what they do. However it is worth pointing out that the things being promised by 6G are the same being promised by 5G, or 5G SA, or 5G mmWave – for example, ambiguous nods to the metaverse and promises of a new but undefined generation of apps.

The conversation around all of them manages to be both granularly arcane (even for B2B-grade messaging), and almost poetically vague. We are told at almost a molecular level how network architecture works, but when it comes to what it’s for, we start getting reams of metaphysical verse about human potential the merging of digital and physical realities.

Years into the rollout of 5G we are still waiting for the societal and industrial revolution it promised would emerge in its wake of gloriously enhanced connectivity, but even if you decide to forgive some perhaps over enthusiastic initial marketing, there isn’t even a genuinely novel consumer benefit over 4G.

Inevitable though the hype train may be, if MWC this year does indeed see a lot more of this sort of 6G pomp and ceremony, all we ask for is a bit more in the way of specifics as to what it is going to actually do differently, and a bit less talk of liberating our innate human potential.


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