Deployment of 5G technology is still in its nascent stage but the U.S. government, academia, and the private sector already have their eyes – and research – on 6G. From further improving rural broadband for the citizenry to better prepare the military for the 21st-century battlefield, 6G will help government agencies improve key initiatives.
6G network deployment is not on the calendar until 2030 but seven years is not a lot of time, considering the spectrum, security, and use case challenges the next wireless generation presents. Sound research and development (R&D) processes, including testing, are necessary to satisfy the timeline, as well as help 6G meet its anticipated economic and social impact.
Connecting 5G to 6G
Many use cases enabled by 5G, such as drone teaming, enhanced communications, and edge computing, will be further enhanced by 6G. In one respect, 5G is setting the foundation – and will serve as a proving ground – for 6G.
Security threats are already evident with 5G, as cybercriminals and foreign adversaries are testing the new networks to see if they can uncover weak links and backdoors to steal valuable data and intelligence. It will only be more profound when 6G is launched. Strong technology standards and cybersecurity practices will need to be incorporated to maintain security in 5G and 6G use cases.
5G enables an expanded number of connected devices and helps IoT achieve massive scale in the private sector, as well as by government agencies. For example, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is implementing 5G to deploy autonomous systems to assess national disaster scenes and improve communications infrastructure and systems used by emergency responders.
The addition of millions of wireless sensors through IoT use cases can accelerate DHS missions already supported by remote sensing, detecting, and tracking devices. Examples include enhanced surveillance capabilities along U.S. borders, at government facilities, and in response to emergency events.
DHS is far from the only government agency leveraging 5G. All the military branches are utilizing the technology. In fact, the Naval Information Warfare Center-Pacific recently demonstrated how 5G-enabled virtual and augmented reality can be applied to training, maintenance, and more through its Battlespace Exploitation of Mixed Reality (BEMR) laboratory. All these initiatives – and many others – will only be enhanced with 6G.
Investing in 6G
In 2021, the Biden administration committed $2.5 billion to 6G, but a report by the Center for a New American Security said more needs to be done. To support the budget commitment, a collaborative approach must be taken.
To that end, Open6G (figure 1), a technology hub partially funded by the Department of Defense (DoD), has been developed to promote the next generation of networks. Its overarching goal is to create a federal-industry-university cooperative research, development, testing, and commercialization center. Northeastern University’s Kostas Research Institute is managing Open6G through a cooperative agreement with the Army Research Laboratory.
Figure 1: Open6G is a collaboration between government agencies, academia, and corporations to advance 6G technology.
Work to stimulate this collaboration and shape 6G’s vision, standards, and markets is currently underway by many groups, including the Next G Alliance (NGA). The NGA is helping to create immediate proactive, strategic, and cooperative action to ensure North America is a leader in 6G. To achieve that goal, the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) suggests three initiatives:
- North American stakeholders must act immediately on 6G or lag behind Asian and European countries.
- Investment in collaboration to lessen the number of sources of friction must be done; a holistic approach to align 6G R&D to longer-term goals must be achieved.
- Federal and local governments must be leveraged to drive 6G deployment and adoption.
Developing a Test Strategy
One main driver for 6G technology is to provide more capacity into the networks. That is the reason there is a push to higher frequencies, including terahertz (THz). The move to such high bands brings technology challenges to test equipment. Typical RF performance, such as noise floor, sensitivity, phase noise, and spurious emissions of test equipment, needs to be ensured at a level that will create reliable, repeatable measurements to achieve the required accuracy.
To overcome possible performance test limitations associated with THz designs, new architectures are being investigated to give optimal cost/performance in these higher frequency bands and greater bandwidth test environments. An example of such a system is shown in figure 2.
Figure 2: A 300 GHz spectrum measurement system using emerging “pre-selector” technology for 6G design verification.
It will take more than instruments with enhanced specifications to verify 6G designs, however. Test environments should be built on three pillars:
Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML) – AI/ML is being investigated to enhance the performance of algorithms used in many communications systems functions. Therefore, the ability of a network emulator to implement and reproduce these AI/ML-based algorithms may become critical for characterizing device performance. Currently, in 3GPP, these algorithms are not standardized nor are they part of the testing requirements. That is likely to change, as AI/ML becomes more fundamental to network operation. Test equipment may need to be able to implement/reproduce the AI/ML based behavior.
Distributed Computing – 6G will have fully distributed computing that will go from the device through the network edge and core and ultimately to the cloud. Test systems must take this data journey into account. The incorporation of integrated optical networks also will require accurate optical testing solutions as part of the test suite.
Virtualization – 5G is introducing open architectures but 6G will take it to a new level. Whereas 5G maintains distinct building blocks somewhat similar to previous wireless technologies, 6G will create a seamless core-to-RAN architecture. The result is that new processes that can perform complete end-to-end 6G testing will be required.
These are just a few of the considerations to create a proper 6G laboratory. To learn more about 6G technology and testing strategies, download this white paper from Anritsu.