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Network evolution towards the 6G era

Network evolution towards the 6G era

The world has changed quickly in recent times, and the pace of change is only accelerating. To address these rapid changes, we have been looking at the trends and the direction of technological change in a company-wide exercise we call our Technology Vision 2030. Our Technology Vision 2030 summarizes how we see the world evolving and guides our technology strategy going forward. As we move from the 5G era onwards to 5G-Advanced, and leading up to the 6G era, the communications fabric will need to be architected differently.

Going into 2030, we believe that two of the most impactful drivers that will dominate network traffic and shape the evolution of networks will be human augmentation and digital-physical fusion.

Even though consumer broadband will remain the biggest service, how the Internet will be used will dramatically change in the future. Human augmentation is about highly immersive experiences and enhanced human-computer interfaces allowing humans to become a part of the Internet, not just users of it. This includes one’s screen-time moving increasingly to devices driven by AR/XR and augmenting the human body with bio-digital interfaces, exoskeletons and many other similar innovations that can help society, for example people on manufacturing sites and those with disabilities or medical conditions. Human augmentation will exert considerable pressure on networks because of its immersive-ness and an extremely broad range of industrial and infotainment applications.

Digital-physical fusion means that by 2030 every physical thing that makes sense to connect digitally will have been connected to the Internet or Intranets. This will bring enormous changes to the demands placed on networks and to industry as a whole. Enterprises, in particular, will need to transform processes and business models to realize the new opportunities this era of digitalization will present.  And it will drive massive connection scale, as well as the most performance-stringent industrial applications.

It will also create a next level of expectations for the networks we architect, deliver, and maintain. Expectations on performance, reliability, ubiquity, security, openness, and sustainability. And with completely new expectations for networks to match the agility of the cloud, as emerging use cases focus on as-a-service models and performance-sensitive applications at the edge. This means over a hundred gigabits per second, sub-millisecond latency, even higher reliability in special cases, and one gigabit wherever it is needed. Regarding sustainability, we have already committed to a 50 percent reduction of greenhouse gasses between 2019-2030, while traffic is growing up to 27x. And, of course, the networks will be open and disaggregated by design, making security even more essential.

We see this network evolution happening in three ways:

  1. Extreme performance specialized networks: a clear split where the most stringent industrial applications are served by specialized private networks, carefully engineered for extremely low latency and high reliability.
  2. Network of networks: consists of many layers within and across networks, including macro, ultra-dense small cell and 3GPP-compatible non-terrestrial networks, working cohesively to provide a new level of ubiquity, performance and reliability that emerging applications will require.
  3. Network-as-a-Service: networks will be consumed dynamically and as-a-service, similar to cloud services today; coordination between the cloud and the network is needed to successfully execute on enterprise transformations.

Fig.  1.

The evolution requires industry collaboration and investment

Building networks to support the human augmentation and digital-physical fusion use cases, and the digitalization of the enterprise in general, will require a completely new level of cooperation and collaboration between the network and the cloud.

The cloud and the network will need to work together seamlessly with the consumability currently expected from public cloud services. Enterprises are increasingly embracing public cloud and hybrid cloud efficiencies, but stringent latency requirements mean that centralized public clouds aren’t sufficient enough. Thus, a flexible approach between centralized, edge, and on-premises clouds interconnected by agile networks will be needed. Of course, this requires not only collaboration between - but also investment in - both the network and the cloud.

Driving innovative solutions for the three network evolutions – extreme performance driven specialized networks, network of networks, network-as-a-service – requires robust technology leadership spanning a range of technology areas. Nokia has many unique strengths, and we are driving the key transformational technologies described here so that we are well-positioned for the coming investments. We build from a key set of strong foundational pillars where our technology leadership is rooted, with the world-class innovation of Nokia Bell Labs, our strong commitment to openness, and the standards leadership we have built, along with our leading position in IPR.  

This technology leadership includes high-performance custom silicon, continuous software led innovation, and our deep-seated commitment to the security of our products. A comprehensive product portfolio and networking expertise underpin our strong ability to integrate and optimize systems, networks, and energy consumption.

We are building up the key technologies and product capabilities essential to network evolution, including:  

  • Transforming to fully cloud-native network software, which can be implemented across a variety of cloud platforms, with security built integrally into the network user plane
  • AI/ML-powered optimizations across the board, for high performance and for automation
  • Software led, low touch operations and ultimately automation of every aspect of the network and the services it delivers

Fig.  2.

With a uniquely strong foundation for Nokia to build on, along with our head-on focus on technical transformation in these key areas, we will not only participate in the change but also lead it.

We are already leading this change through collaboration with our CSP customers, our partnerships with cloud providers, and the insights gained from our relationships with the integrated verticals.

Today, Nokia builds many parts of the network, giving us a uniquely wide product portfolio in the industry. We build our technology leadership by leveraging the capabilities of the different parts of our company, leading the development of technology at different points in the technology cycle.

Nokia Bell Labs together with Nokia Standards is our innovation engine, working in concert with our Business Group’s R&D. The ideas generated there have made Nokia’s standardization and patenting of the highest value in our industry, with more than 4,300 declared cellular standard essential patent (SEP) families and more than 4,000 patent families declared essential to 5G, with more to follow.  

The technologies are also implemented into our products for world-leading capabilities and new features. Therefore, we are always considering product evolution along with the protection of investment – our customers’ and our own.

Accelerate and scale to lead in 5G-Advanced, while building the foundation for 6G

An example of a technology where we have decided to double-down is 5G-Advanced. 5G-Advanced will improve the experience for new interactive use cases, such as XR and Cloud Gaming. It will extend 5G to new vertical markets through, for example, enhanced RedCap and expanded capabilities for high accuracy positioning. All paired with enhanced operational excellence through increased network energy efficiency and wide adoption of AI/ML in RAN and Core.

Fig.  3.

5G-Advanced will develop 5G to its fullest capabilities and is an important stepping stone for some of the use case capabilities we want to enable at a larger scale in the 6G era – during which we will see the network evolve towards extreme performance in specialized networks, network of networks, and network-as-a-service.

We are strongly positioned and ready to lead this evolution. We are already investing towards this, we know what aspects are important for our customers today and in the future, we have a clear direction, and we have the very best minds on it. You’ll be seeing more on this and on Nokia’s technology leadership from us...stay tuned.

Nishant Batra

About Nishant Batra

Nishant is the Chief Strategy and Technology Officer (CSTO) of Nokia 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. Across his career, Nishant has been intimately involved in bringing cutting-edge products to market across industry domains and has a deep understanding of the silicon, software and system requirements necessary for innovation. An avid fan of cricket and a world-traveler, Nishant is based in California and has lived and worked in Asia, Europe and the US.

Connect with Nishant on LinkedIn.

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