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6G Standardization is beginning: Here’s why you should care

6G Standardization is beginning: Here’s why you should care

By Balazs Bertenyi

18 March 2024

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The 6G era will only officially kick off towards the end of this decade, when the first commercial deployments are expected. But it’s safe to say that the road there has already begun.

A key step for any new cellular generation is the creation of all relevant technical specifications. Three recent developments indicate that this groundwork is already being laid. 

First, 3GPP, the global partnership project for cellular connectivity standardization, has laid out its 6G timeline and committed to developing the needed specifications. Second, the World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 has decided to allocate several spectrum bands for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT), particularly in the upper 6GHz band, and decided to start studies on IMT allocation in several other bands in the 7-15 GHz range, which is regarded as the key new range for 6G use. Finally, the International Telecommunication Union has published its framework for the initial requirements for IMT-2030, the ITU nomenclature for 6G. 

Together, these moves mark a de facto start to 6G standardization with a path enabling mass 6G commercialization in the 2030 timeframe. 

Why does it matter?

In a nutshell, standardization translates the promise of 6G into an actual tangible system. It turns years of research conducted in all major regions into potential reality. No more fancy slides about use cases or drummed-up industry hype, but rather features and capabilities that are likely to appear in live networks and devices.

In essence, standardization represents a moment of truth. Concepts and technologies carefully crafted by diligent researchers and documented by research alliances are put to the test of global industry scrutiny that is 3GPP standardization.

Ultimately, these standards will determine how networks will be built and deployed and how the current and future industry stakeholders build value around these new 6G capabilities. It is hard to precisely foresee the eventual customer value proposition of 6G at this early stage. But it’s clear that 6G represents an inevitable growth fueling the ever-larger share and importance that cellular connectivity represents in the global economy.  

The 6G future

So, what are these new standardized 6G capabilities that will unlock all this new value potential expected by the industry and the global economy at large?

First and foremost, 6G standards will bring and mandate a new much-elevated baseline performance for both the networks and the devices. Recent 5G-Advanced releases in 3GPP have developed many different capabilities on energy efficiency, on uplink performance, on coverage enhancements and more. But these features are not appearing in the field yet, and even if they do, they will make very little actual difference given the massive 5G legacy device population. 6G day-one deployments will mandate many of these features in both the devices and networks, and much more.

Second, AI is becoming a driving technology behind everything digital, and 6G will be no different. An AI-native 6G will change how we design, operate and optimize networks and devices bringing optimized performance and efficiency. We foresee superior deep-learning receiver performance, prediction-based energy efficiency, improved beam management and more predictable device performance as some of the key advancements enabled by native AI/ML.

Third, we believe the 6G cellular platform will be natively designed with energy sustainability in mind, allowing us to minimize the network’s power consumption from the first commercial deployment. Mobile operators simply cannot afford to have their energy bills rise any further, and the entire ICT industry is looking for any opportunity to reduce its energy footprint. So 6G needs to bring its promised additional capacity, functionality and value without any substantial rise in total energy consumption.

Finally, 6G’s new capabilities will engender a bevy of new use cases. At this stage it is hard to predict exactly how and when many of the visionary examples will truly materialize, as stars across several adjacent industries need to align. Collaborative robots, mass digital twinning, sensing, extreme autonomation and many more services are all in the realm of possibility for the 2030 era. 6G will bring the connectivity features required for all and any of these use cases to take off.

There is one use case, however, on which we need to focus particular attention: the consumer device. The massive success of 4G and 5G has been fueled almost single-handedly by the smartphone ecosystem. While smartphones will still be with us for 6G, there are strong signs of a more diversified device ecosystem on the horizon that will bring a true immersive experience to both commercial and professional users. These devices could take the form of new wearables, from XR glasses and connected clothing to AI-assistants. We are seeing the beginnings of a massive innovation cycle in this space driving a substantial shift in the way people go about their lives. 

These immersive experiences will fundamentally change the way people perceive cellular service, and hence opens the door for differentiated and tailored value propositions. Therefore, 6G systems should natively support a much wider variety of devices in the most efficient way: from architecture design to protocol design to radio design.

Over the last 25 years we have enjoyed the luxury of a single global cellular standard, spearheaded by 3GPP. With each generation, cellular technology has grown to be an intrinsic part of our lives. It is also becoming a part of every nation’s critical infrastructure, and as such, governments are increasingly vested in championing emerging cellular technology enablers. This geopolitical race is mostly healthy. Competition brings a higher level of engagement and eventually produce tangible results. It is crucial to note, though, that this race should not occur at the expense of an eventual single global 6G standard. 

It is important that the industry sets realistic expectations and drives the right overall understanding of what these global 6G standards will bring. We aren’t creating 6G for its own sake. New technologies and applications are placing ever greater demands on the network. 6G must be designed to meet the demands of those technologies, not invent new ones. In a world where hyperboles have become the norm – where one has to make exorbitant claims to make a mark – we need to exhibit the voice of reason and earn the trust of every 6G stakeholder.

Balazs Bertenyi

About Balazs Bertenyi

Balazs is Senior Principal Standardization Lead at Nokia and served as Chairman of 3GPP TSG-RAN between 2017 and 2021. He joined Nokia in 1998, and now leads 6G pre-standards and ecosystem work for Nokia.

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