Addressing these physical and technical limitations will require steps of innovation, but the promise of applications powered by advanced 6G connectivity is motivating creative solutions.
Adaptive technology solutions are a key area of research. Instead of focusing on optimizing the bandwidth of a single device, for example, the 6G network will use nearby devices to help provide the necessary bandwidth and reduce latency. This 3D signal configuration focuses on combining and processing wireless signals from multiple sources, based on their proximity to the end user.
New semiconductor materials will help manage device space requirements as well as handle wider frequency bands. Although it requires complex engineering, one promising approach combines traditional silicon circuits with those made from more exotic compound semiconductors, such as indium phosphide. Additionally, researchers are looking at ways to change the environment with reconfigurable smart surfaces (“smart surfaces”) that can optimize signal propagation to modify signals in real-time to provide better bandwidth and lower latency
Another avenue of research is based on artificial intelligence to manage networks and optimize communications. Different types of network usage (texting, gaming and streaming, for example) create different types of network demand. AI solutions enable a system to predict this demand based on behavioral patterns, rather than requiring engineers to always design for the highest levels of demand.
Nichols sees great potential for networking from improvements in artificial intelligence. “Today’s systems are so complex, with so many levers to handle the various demands,” says Nichols, “that most decisions about optimization are limited to first-order adjustments such as more sites, upgraded radios, a better backhaul, more efficient data gateways. , and limiting certain users.” By contrast, employing artificial intelligence to manage optimization, he says, presents “a significant opportunity to move to autonomous, self-optimizing, self-organizing networks.”
Virtual simulations and digital twin technology are promising tools that will not only help 6G innovation, but will be enabled by 6G once established. These emerging technologies can help companies test their products and systems in a sandbox that simulates real-world conditions, allowing equipment manufacturers and application developers to test concepts in complex environments and create early product prototypes for 6G networks.
While engineers and researchers have proposed innovative solutions, Nichols notes that building 6G networks will also require consensus among technology providers, carriers and operators. As the rollout of 5G networks continues, industry players should create a cohesive vision of what applications the next-generation network will support and how its technologies will work.
However, it is this collaboration and complexity that can generate the most exciting and lasting results. Nichols notes that the breadth of engineering specialties needed to build 6G, and the industry collaboration needed to launch it, will drive exciting interdisciplinary innovation. Because of the resulting demand for new solutions, the road to 6G will be paved, in Nichols’ words, with “a great deal of technical research, development and innovation, from electronics to semiconductors, antennas, radio network systems, Internet protocols and artificial intelligence in cyber security”.
This content was produced by Insights, the custom content group of MIT Technology Review. It was not written by the MIT Technology Review editorial team.