Francisco Javier Falcone Lanas: 6G networks will change everything

Mobile phones, mostly smart, have become an everyday element of our daily lives. They help us with a multitude of tasks: buying online, choosing the best route to attend a meeting, checking our bank balance and staying up to date with the latest trends. All this is possible because they are information processing platforms with the capacity for storage, communication and interaction with the surrounding environment. In addition, they integrate different types of sensors, such as cameras and accelerometers.

Our phones are one more member of a set of elements within the concept of the Internet of Things (IoT). Thanks to the increasing capabilities of electronic integration and information management of communications networks, they allow virtually any device to have Internet connectivity, anywhere and anytime.

The Internet of Things already has sensor networks deployed throughout our cities, suburban and rural environments. Thus, it monitors freight transport systems, electricity, water and gas distribution networks and the health of infrastructure such as bridges. It also assists in the management and control of building automation systems.

These networks depend fundamentally on the capabilities of wireless and mobile communications networks, which enable ubiquitous deployment and, depending on the communications network used, mobility capabilities.

What should a wireless network be like?

Wireless networks must be able to guarantee connectivity considering variable channel conditions, both due to the wireless nature of the channel and the user’s behavior (for example, chatting inside a subway car underground).

Since there is a wide variety of connectable devices and operating conditions (depending on the type of traffic, device size and power limitations), we have different networks:

1. Sensor networks (Low Power Wide Area Network, LPWAN, such as LoRa/LoRaWAN or Sigfox).

2. Wireless local area networks (Wireless Local Area Networks, colloquially known as Wi-Fi).

3. Body or personal area networks (Bluetooth and Near Field Communications-NFC for identification or mobile payments).

4. The mobile networks themselves.

In the case of the latter, we are immersed in the deployment of 5G networks. More specifically, those that operate in the microwave bands below 6 GHz (known as NR FR1).

Since the first call was made from a cell phone on April 4, 1973, mobile networks have evolved to become native IP networks, with data transmission capabilities of several gigabits per second, with delays in the millisecond range that They allow you to manage various services.

All of this, also, pending the new evolutions of the 5G network (fundamentally the deployment of networks in millimeter bands, 5G NR FR2) finally becoming a reality.

Towards 6G

So what makes 6G different from previous generations?

The 5G network is ideal for handling Internet of Things applications, since it allows transmission speeds that are suitable for the vast majority of applications and has response times suitable for those applications that are critical in real time.

The 6G network, whose first operational versions are projected for 2030, proposes data transmission speeds in the range of one terabit per second, latencies of 0.1 milliseconds, connectivity support for vehicles with speeds up to 1000 km/h and reliability levels. of 99.99999%.

This enables multiple applications: real-time control systems for robots, massive connectivity of all types of devices (home appliances, urban furniture, wearables, bicycles), up to 107 devices per square kilometer and the implementation of mixed reality and extended reality environments, with applications as spectacular as holographic communications.

In this context, the concept of joint communications and sensing capabilities emerges in the definition of 6G networks as a clear differentiating and innovative element.

An example: in the case of 6G, wireless signals can reach frequencies in the order of 3 THz (with properties closer to infrared than to microwave and millimeter wave frequencies). This means that they can be used not only to send information, but also to locate objects, machines and people with high degrees of precision, even indoors. Also to be able to determine a person’s cardiac breathing rate.

In this way, the 6G network becomes much more than a communications network and becomes a backbone of new forms of interaction, both with our real environment and in virtual environments. Of course, we will have to wait a while for both the technology and the socioeconomic and cultural context in which we will live to develop.

This article has been published in ‘The conversation‘.

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