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If we want 6G to really matter, we must make collaboration the biggest priority

If we want 6G to really matter, we must make collaboration the biggest priority

By Nishant Batra

27 March 2024


We’re coming up on a generational crossroads in networking. While commercially, we are still firmly in the 5G era of wireless communications, our research focus has now shifted to the 6G era. As you have probably noticed, Nokia is talking a lot more about the next generation of wireless

But you will also notice, when we talk about 6G, we’re not speaking alone. 

Nokia and its research arm Bell Labs have been collaborating with every manner of company and institution to investigate 6G’s potential.

As service providers will be the first to deploy 6G networks, Nokia has begun working closely with our forward-looking mobile customers to test 6G technologies. For instance, with NTT, Docomo and SKT, we are exploring how AI will unlock new capabilities and enhance performance in 6G networks. 

We are partnering with industry powerhouses and enterprise-solutions makers to examine how new wireless technologies will redefine the workplace. With Bosch, Nokia Bell Labs is evaluating industrial use cases for 6G joint communication and sensing. And with Hololight, we are investigating how new wireless technologies will allow networks to support multiple simultaneous XR sessions without sacrificing quality of experience.

Nokia aims to create a broad 6G ecosystem. To that end, we are working closely with Qualcomm to explore the potential interoperability challenges between 6G networks and devices – then innovating ways to overcome those challenges. And just last week, Nokia and Nvidia announced we are investigating how the power of a digital twin could be used to simulate the entirety of a 6G network without ever venturing outside of a lab. 

Our collaboration efforts also extend far beyond the private sector. Nokia has worked extensively with the global membership of the ITU to ensure the World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 identified the most appropriate spectrum for 6G. We partner closely with universities and research institutions from India to the U.S.  For instance, every year, Nokia and NYU Wireless co-host the landmark Brooklyn 6G Summit, which brings together the brightest minds in academia, business and communications to scrutinize the most cutting-edge trends in network research.

Defining a new generation of wireless connectivity is not a job that a single company – or even a handful of companies – can tackle alone. We need a community of network vendors and service providers, device makers and application developers, vertical industries and even governments. Anyone who has a stake in the future of technology should have a say in 6G. We’re not building 6G for its own sake. Rather future applications, services and devices are placing ever-increasing demands on our network infrastructure. We’re creating 6G for the sole reason of meeting those relentless demands. 

The industrial metaverse, spatial computing, AI-generated content and ubiquitous XR are hungry for capacity, require unbending reliability and brook no compromises in latency. The most cutting-edge future applications – whether they be self-driving vehicles, fleets of drones and large-scale factory automation – will only work in a world that has been virtually mapped with digital twins. And every new technology has an obligation to the planet to minimize its greenhouse emissions footprint. 

These are the requirements our customers and research collaborators are demanding. Consequently, Nokia is working with these same partners to craft a next-generation system that specifically addresses those needs. 

Our joint 6G research is focused, in part, on producing a network and device ecosystem that will support the most demanding application’s requirements for throughput, reliability and latency. But 6G can’t merely be about performance. To meet the demand for massive-scale digital twinning, Nokia Bell Labs is exploring ways to transform the network into a ubiquitous sensor that can virtually map any environment it touches. We’re pushing for native API support in 6G to make it far easier for application developers to tap the power and capabilities of the network. And to tackle the issue of sustainability, 6G research starts square one at energy efficiency.

Using 6G to sense objects in the real world

By working with these partners, we are overcoming both technical and societal challenges. To give you a technical example, I need only point to our work with Qualcomm. 

Both Nokia and Qualcomm share the same vision that AI has the power to transform wireless communication. AI will simultaneously boost network and device performance while minimizing energy consumption. But there is a key challenge: the problem of interoperability. We live in a multivendor world, which means every device and network utilizes a different AI technology. It is far from evident how these differing AI models can talk to one another. 

However, Qualcomm and Nokia identified this challenge early on. By putting our heads together, we jointly developed new training techniques that make these models cooperate, allowing varying AI systems to reinforce one another, rather than work at cross purposes, even though they come from different vendors and may use different AI-model architectures.

Wireless AI Interoperability

As for overcoming societal challenges, I will offer up an example that’s close to heart, my native India. Last month, Nokia announced a partnership with the India Institute of Science (IISc) to research 6G technologies and use cases at our new 6G Lab in Bengaluru. What’s exciting about this project is it isn’t merely focused on technical issues and abstract use cases. The collaboration is exploring 6G applications that address the specific challenges India faces as a country.

Nokia and the IISc are investigating how network-sensing technologies could be used to alleviate the horrific traffic conditions in India’s cities while minimizing road fatalities. In a country where an estimated 19 traffic-related deaths occur every hour, this is no small problem. In addition, IISc and Nokia are looking into new possibilities for using 6G to improve access to healthcare and education and to provide assistance to India’s growing elderly population. 6G sustainability is also a key interest to my IISc colleagues, as India rapidly expanding economy spurs growth in its greenhouse gas emissions.

This is the whole point of what we do as technologists. We can build bigger, faster and better networks ad infinitum. But unless we are solving specific problems, we can hardly call that innovation. For 6G to matter, it must have impact. That’s why we need to collaborate, we need to partner, and we need to listen. We even need to work with those we don’t 100% agree with.

Collaboration will not only make the 6G the most powerful generation of wireless networking yet, it will also make it the most inclusive, impacting more businesses, more industries and more people. The more inclusive 6G becomes, the more 6G will matter. 

Nishant Batra

About Nishant Batra

Nishant is Nokia's Chief Strategy and Technology Officer (CSTO) with responsibility for corporate strategy, technology architecture and pioneering research at Nokia Bell Labs; Nokia’s information technology (IT) infrastructure and digitalization initiatives; centralized security domains; and Nokia’s venture capital activities. His function lays the path for Nokia’s future technology innovation and identifies the most promising areas in which Nokia can create new value.

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