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30 September 2019

China sets out its first vision for 6G technologies

In last week’s edition, we reported on the claim, by Finland’s University of Oulu, to have published the first 6G white paper. But Chinese researchers were never going to be far behind, and last week saw the China Mobile Research Institute (CMRI) holding a 6G workshop in Beijing.

This is the first major 6G initiative in China, with 200 attendees from vendors, start-ups and Peking University. Speakers included China’s biggest AI start-up SenseTime, augmented reality company HiScene, virtual reality firm Dgene and smartphone supplier Xiaomi.

Liu Guangyi, chief researcher at CMRI, said that while 5G would bring the Internet of everything, 6G would achieve convergence of the real and virtual worlds, with every real person and object having a proxy in the virtual world. “Human beings will be able to simulate the operation of the physical world in the virtual one and thus can make an early judgement and if necessary take action … so what happens in the virtual world can directly affect the physical world and even affect and touch the behavior in the physical world.”

Liu said 6G would also include holographic communication, smart industrial production and a tactile Internet that would include taste and touch; and enable the brain/computer interface and nano-robots that would monitor body organs.

These use cases have been talked about for 5G in the past, but are clearly unrealistic when it comes to current, or even stage two and three, 5G technologies. CMRI is talking about sub-1ms latency and speeds above 1Tbps to support its targeted applications, and despite some of the pre-commercial hype about 5G, the standards are way off delivering these performance metrics in the real world.

So 6G may well be a continuum of the first few releases of 5G, but will, according to researchers, represent a sufficiently big performance leap to justify being seen as a new generation. Its main technical difference, according to most early R&D, will be to move up into ‘terahertz’ spectrum bands.

But according to Liu, new spectrum is not the only change. 6G will have new topologies and architecture too – it will be a “minimalist network” that can be very rapidly deployed, in a fully plug-and-play manner. It would be automated to a far greater extent than is envisaged for 5G – “self-generating, self-governing and self-evolving”, as Liu put it, and able to acquire new functions and versions without manual input, while achieving the vision of fully zero-touch operations.