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6G: New Generations of Wireless and the Impact on Measurement
November 13, 2020 Blog


Authored by: Roger Nichols, 6G Program Manager, Keysight Technologies


The end of 2020 will see only 2% of the world’s 8 billion mobile subscriptions using 5G.  But, even though the vision for 5G is still far from being realised, the work on 6G has begun.

The early work in 5G set the stage for developing a technology based on a user- and society-centric view. Whitepapers from the ITU, Samsung, Docomo, and the University of Oulu, describe futuristic use cases and network attributes: Tactile holographic communications; Precise digital twins; Industrial IoT in the Cloud; Social and Societal IoT; and a Pervasive use of AI to merge communications and computing with society. Traditional key performance indicators (KPIs) include data rates to 1Tbps, mobility of 1000 kmph, and latency of 0.1ms. New KPIs include “in time” and “on time” communications and the ability to pinpoint location to centimetres.

We are often asked what design and testing will be like for 6G, and we anticipate that testing will happen in both traditional and new domains, test technology and solutions will evolve over time, and that complex system-level validation for the entire system will take an even bigger role than in previous generations.

With history as an indicator, it is safe to say that this will take some time. Automated mobile radio systems were conceived in the early 1970s, building upon frequency reuse concepts patented by Bell Labs in the late 1940s. NTT launched the first commercial system in 1979. Each subsequent generation has launched at one-decade intervals.

Mobile wireless first enabled us to carry our phones, and now allows our office, education, and entertainment to be anywhere. The next step is for 6G to become integral to society, while the industry puts constant pressure on the state of the art of affordable technology. For example, 1G was not feasible without the microprocessor; 2G and 3G required revolutions in digital radio transceivers; and 4G would not exist without the lithium-ion battery.

That same pressure also drove the evolution of test and measurement. We started with measuring radiophysics: power, sensitivity, and interference issues. Each subsequent generation drove change on the way these measurements had to be made; and new validation requirements – often at higher layers of system performance. Signal-to-noise based sensitivity measurements evolved to bit error rate (BER) and then to block error rate (BLER), and now must consider noise plus interference. Modulation accuracy went from modulation depth error to error vector magnitude (EVM). We added testing of voice codecs, data throughput, battery drain, and hand-overs.

Now we measure things like scheduler efficiency and even “quality of service” (QoS). 5G will bring system-level issues related to requirements for security, reliability, latency, and system power consumption. The increasing demands from industry and society required simulation, design, measurement, and validation to evolve from physics to voice and data performance, and then to system performance.

Societies and governments are paying close attention to 5G with a special interest in public safety, information security, and national interests. This implies design and validation requirements for system-wide attributes including service level agreement (SLA) adherence and “quality of experience” (QoE).  In 6G, we can even foresee policy-driven requirements for system-level performance. An obvious example, would be government use of a 6G network slice.  Others would be 6G as an integral part of automated driving or healthcare—either of these drive strict safety, security, and reliability requirements.

6G will drive new technical demands in five major areas:

  • Next generation radio in all bands plus the addition of bands above 100GHz.
  • Integrated heterogeneous multi-radio access technology (RAT) systems – Seamless and intelligent use of 6G radio systems with non-terrestrial networks as well as legacy wireless systems, personal area networks, and near field communication (NFC).
  • Time engineering in networks – Further reduce latency, add predictable and programmable latency for precise-time applications.
  • AI-based networking – The use of artificial intelligence (AI) to optimise real-time network operations and performance.
  • Advanced security – Pervasive application of security technology for privacy, attack prevention, attack detection, attack resilience, and recovery in a zero-trust environment.

All but the first of these will have to be validated from the physical level to the system level. Governments around the world are engaged in intense dialogue on 5G as it relates to security and national interests. Also, earlier in the 5G lifecycle than in previous generations, departments of defence are exploring the use of 5G for their needs.