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Hexa-X-II puts use cases at the center of 6G

Colleagues working together in a plant, with a robotic arm device operating in the background

“Why do we need 6G?” That’s the question I hear more and more every day as 6G research and standards work ramps up. There are many answers to that question, from higher performance to new network capabilities. But the best answer, in my opinion, is this one: use cases.

In the 6G era, mobile robots will work collectively to perform hazardous tasks in factories, ports and construction sites. Students will be educated in virtual classrooms though full immersive reality. And we will have access to real-time digital twins of ports, airports, industrial parks and even whole cities.

For these use cases to materialize, will require embedded AI, cloud resources and critical connectivity offering low latency, high throughput, security and reliability.

Future networks will also need to cope with new types and greater volumes of traffic, requiring new technologies capable of supporting greater spectral efficiency, more capacity and improved sustainability. In short, these new use cases will need 6G. This is why the 6G research consortium Hexa-X-II has made the investigation of use cases the focal point of its work in 6G technology. By clearly identifying the use cases of the future, we can ensure 6G has the right mix of technologies to make these use cases reality.

Introducing the six use case families

Hexa-X-II is the flagship 6G initiative of the Smart Network and Services Joint Undertaking (SNS JU). Its goal is to design an end-to-end system enabling platform delivering novel capabilities for next generation networks.

These recommendations will eventually become part of the 6G standard. Nokia is designated project leader of Hexa-X-II, and we have been instrumental in driving the project toward a common goal by aggregating the different views of the dozens of service providers, technology companies and organizations involved in Hexa-X-II.

Hexa-X-II agreed that the first step we need to take is clearly defining the use cases that require 6G connectivity and capabilities. After all, we can’t recommend a system design for 6G if we don’t know what sorts of scenarios 6G will handle.

Hexa-X-II produced a list of six use case families that will act as drivers towards 6G networking, as shown in the figure below.

Hexa-X-II 6G use case families

Hexa-X-II 6G use case families

Each of the six families encompasses a set of associated use cases that will make similar demands of the network from both a technical and a sustainability standpoint.

  • Immersive Experience covers the human need of “experiencing”, in a natural way, a digitally extended or virtual environment. We identified four specific use cases:   Seamless Immersive Reality, Immersive Education, Immersive Gaming, and Live and Interactive Immersive Content Creation

  • Collaborative Robots will work in groups to perform dangerous and complex tasks, coordinating their activities through 6G network connectivity. The identified use cases are: Cooperating Mobile Robots and Autonomous Embodied Agents with Flexible Manufacturing

  • Physical Awareness is a set of use cases that builds on capabilities in the network that go beyond communication: sensing, positioning, computing and AI. These new beyond-communications features will improve awareness, efficiency and safety by gathering 3D situational data from the environment. The recognized use cases are: Network Assisted Mobility and Network Physical Data Exposure

  • Digital Twins will digitally simulate the real world. These digital twins will give us enhanced interaction, control and maintenance capabilities as well as allow us to virtually manage processes and components. The Digital Twin use cases driving towards 6G include: Real-time Digital Twins for industrial automation, Smart Maintenance and Digital Twins for Construction.

  • Fully Connected World is a family of use cases that center on ensuring connectivity everywhere. It not only enables coverage expansion in a cost-effective way but focuses on enabling network availability for crisis management, Environmental monitoring, digital health services, virtualization of device functionalities and support of autonomous supply chains. The driving use cases for the Fully Connected World are: Ubiquitous Networks; Digital Sobriety and Enhanced Awareness, Sustainable Food Production, Autonomous Supply Chain and Virtualization of Device Functionalities

  • The Trusted Environments family focuses on use cases in local environments, such as streets, hospitals, schools and retirement homes, that deliver human-centric services and promote health, well-being, safety, inclusion and autonomy in daily life. The use cases are: Human-Centric Networks, Industrial Sensors Network for Safe Production & Manufacturing, and Wireless In-Vehicle Network

Two use cases that resonate

While all six of the Hexa-X-II use case families are viable and validate the need for 6G, we at Nokia believe there are two use cases that will be of particular importance in the next decade: the Real-time Digital Twin and Collaborative Robots.

Today digital twin models are already popping up in the industrial and services ecosystems to simulate and predict processes. However, there is still a huge growth potential for digital twins that current mobile networks cannot conquer. Real-time Digital Twins will be highly dependent on near-instantaneous response times and highly dependable connectivity.

Today we find robots in multiple industries, from manufacturing to mining to warehouse logistics. The next step is for robots to move beyond dedicated, individual tasks to large-scale robot orchestration. Collaborating Robots would allow autonomous vehicles and machines to coordinate their activities and achieve much greater efficiency in industrial production, safety and quality. Collaborating Robots, just like Real-time Digital Twins, also need high-performing networks for near-instantaneous response times and dependable connectivity.

This means both Real-time Digital Twins and Collaborative Robots will require, at scale, an even lower latency and higher reliability, beyond what 5G can deliver. An important differentiation will be that 6G introduces network joint communication and sensing capabilities, so the Real-time Digital Twin and Collaborative Robots will be able to use the 6G network as of source of dynamic situational information, not merely as a connectivity tool, which will greatly boost their performance. 

Finally, there is an overarching element that applies to all six use cases: sustainability. Nokia believes sustainability will be of paramount importance to the success of 6G, and our peers in Hexa-X-II were all in agreement. For that reason, Nokia pushed for each of the six use-case families to include an analysis of its sustainability impact. These analyses examined sustainability of each use case from two angles: its handprint (a use case’s environmental, social and economic benefits) and its footprint (a use case’s environmental, social and economic costs).

The work in Hexa-X-II is far from completed. The next step is to refresh the use-case analysis with the feedback from other projects worldwide and to further detail each of the use-case families. Once those use cases are finalized, Hexa-X-II will use them as the starting point for our final deliverable, an end-to-end system design representing a consolidated view of 6G. That system design will then become the baseline for 3GPP standardization.

Patrick Everaert

About Patrick Everaert

Patrick is a senior consultant at Bell Labs Consulting with a focus on access and network Strategy, technology evolution and customer experience. He brings in 20-plus years of experience in telecommunications in multiple roles.

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