The 6G Flagship is a research program focusing on the sixth generation (6G) of mobile communications and its applications, which was initiated by the University of Oulu. Researchers have identified four main verticals: health, transportation, energy and industrial, which are the same industries that are currently heavily digitalizing their operations based on either 4G or 5G solutions.  

The program is also collaborating and supporting companies with their 5G deployment, so researchers can study the gaps between 5G and 6G. This collaboration guides the research community on where extra research effort and improvements are necessary.  

The first 6G test network is expected to be ready by 2025–2026, and it would become available around 2030, as new mobile generations appear every ten years.  

Differences between 5G and 6G  

Compared to previous mobile network generations, 6G will offer faster connection, ten times higher efficiency, lower latency, higher precision, and better quality. The main differences will lie in using end user device for other purposes rather than just for transferring data. “Mobile phones for consumers probably won't be the most important use case for 6G, since 6G will mainly focus on machine-to-machine connectivity, where lower latency and faster connectivity are necessary” Rantakokko notes.  

The transmission side will need much higher capacity. Machine-to-machine traffic will be one reason for this, but also the new features for human users, for example Virtual Reality. Low latency will be vital for many features, for example for drones or smart vehicles.  

Common understanding is that 6G will not be planned to be everywhere. Current view is that 6G focus areas are to provide high-capacity services in specific areas in Private network like Industrial locations, harbors, hospitals, virtual reality, machine to machine, etc. connectivity where such connection is needed. This kind of approach will open the door for private network sector and open a new discussion for existing mobile operators to work with those companies.  

For mobile operators, 6G will create new opportunities and new business models on how to apply 6G in different verticals. Of course, a lot of 6G use will depend on regulators and how the spectrum for 6G will be allocated.  

6G Challenges  

The challenges in creating a trustworthy 6G are multidisciplinary, which span through technology, regulation, techno-economics, politics, and ethics.  

  • Privacy: Courts in different countries have started to act and make decisions about whether privacy is being infringed or not, while companies are exploring new ways to utilize private data for new business models.  
  • Security. Machine learning can be used to make safer systems, but it also enables increasingly dangerous attacks. Larger amounts of data will be transferred, and the information will be more accessible and easier to collect. One example where security is especially needed, is in the Health vertical. The lack of security in health issues could influence the public's view and their will to use 6G Health services.  
  • Policy making. The standardization of the 6G network depends on a country's development and will go in different directions.  
  • Trust. In the current regulation for an “open internet” telco services are used for trusted services and users. The future networks must support embedded trust for the increased levels of information exchange.  

Operator challenges  

  • Co-operation with private network solution provider
  • Transmission connectivity requires high-capacity fiber.
  • Virtual/Hologram innovation requirements
  • New challenges with Privacy and security
  • Location services with in 1cm raster
  • New innovations within machine to machine requirements

6G Network infrastructure  

The Radio Network Planning in 6G is still not defined yet, but the university researchers and other developers are studying the process of how it will work. The expectation that a big part of the communication will be machine-to-machine, will create a different traffic pattern compared to the voice and human originated data. The sheer numbers of the equipment mean that the radio network planning will be more automated, thus the Mobile Operators should be ready to adopt new ideas for the planning.  

The sixth generation will be running two totally new concepts of radio link to end user device; the satellite one and the non-terrestrial. As satellites have been used in telecommunications for six decades, they are at least in principle familiar with the mobile phone radio network engineers, however the non-terrestrial concept is a new one. It can involve many possible solutions, like drones, but the definition and development is still very much in the early phase. The traditional terrestrial networks will dominate the field for a long time, but the mobile operators should be aware of these new possibilities and challenges.  

6G will be in the existing layers, defying which technology is best fit for your needs. “Using cable as a backbone connectivity solution is the basic idea. An example, having a Wi-Fi box, but instead we will have a 6G box, connected with cable or a wireless solution. Essential parts of the computing could happen in that box, as some of the high capacity and low latency does not have to happen in the cloud, but it should happen as close as possible to the end user” Rantakokko explains.  

  • One example is hospital operating rooms: to get rid of all the cables, all connectivity could be replaced by 6G solutions. There must be a product so that the hospitals can run the operations and use the new opportunities for their purposes.  

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