AT&T, Samsung, Qualcomm help launch 6G research center at University of Texas

The University of Texas at Austin is launching a 6G research center with the support of major wireless industry players, including AT&T, Samsung and Qualcomm.

Nvidia and InterDigital also are among the five founding affiliates.

Advanced sensing, location, machine learning capabilities and use of terahertz spectrum are a few of the key aspects the research center is focused on for 6G.

Tower company Crown Castle is involved as an affiliate, alongside Intel, Honda, Nextnav (a company developing location and timing technology including high-precision altitude), Western Digital, and industrial automation and test and measurement solutions provider Yokogawa.

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“The advances in both wireless communications and machine learning over the past decade have been incredible, but separate,” said 6G@UT Director Jeffrey Andrews, a professor in UT Austin’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, in a press release. "Coupled with vast new sensing and localization abilities, 6G will be defined by an unprecedented native intelligence, which will transform the ability of the network to provide incredible services.”

The handful of founding companies have each agreed to fund at least two research projects at the center, called 6G@UT, for three years. In addition to funding, they’ll also contribute expertise, working with UT researchers, faculty and students to develop foundational technologies for 6G.

That includes wireless-specific machine learning algorithms, advanced sensing and core networking technologies.

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UT described 6G networks utilizing a variety of sensor inputs (visual, audio, thermal, seismic) that together bring a new level of situational awareness to keep things running smoothly.

“5G’s vision of sensing has been insufficiently bold,” said Todd Humphreys, associate professor in UT Austin’s Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, in the press release. “6G should begin with the premise that sensing is not just for reacting to conditions, but anticipating them, so that vital links to automated vehicles, AR/VR headsets, and other latency-sensitive applications can be maintained with utter reliability.”

Some founding affiliates have been involved in other 6G efforts, including members of the ATIS Next G Alliance and part of the U.S. National Science Foundation public-private 6G partnership program.

In the announcement, Samsung SVP of engineering and head of the Standards and Mobility Innovation team Charlie Zhang called out spectrum in the terahertz range, which the company has been exploring and recently demoed for 6G with the University of California in Santa Barbara.

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“Samsung is excited to embark on the approaching 6G era with UT Austin, which is one of the leading global universities on wireless research. Together, we will unlock the potential of machine learning in future networks and devices, harness the power of new spectrum in THz bands, and bring to life futuristic applications such as holographic calls and immersive AR/VR,” Zhang stated.

Well known as a leading 5G smartphone-maker, Samsung is also gaining ground in key markets including the U.S. as a 5G network infrastructure vendor.

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AT&T, meanwhile, cited intelligence in the RAN alongside higher band spectrum.

“From the application of AI/ML in the RAN to leveraging network sensing and added spectrum bands, 6G will enable new and transformative applications,” said David Wolter, assistant VP of radio technology at AT&T. “In our long collaboration with UT Austin, they have demonstrated a unique ability to help define advanced wireless technologies and contribute valuable and targeted research. This new effort continues our collaboration into a new era of wireless communications.”

Research on low Earth orbit satellite links for better coverage in rural and urban areas, as well as architectures for improved infrastructure sharing, are other areas of focus for 6G@UT. The 6G center at UT Austin is a spin out of the university’s Cockrell School Wireless Networking & Communications Group (WNCG), which has been around for 19 years and worked on 4G and 5G technologies.

Companies named in the recent announcement are also industrial affiliates of WNCG at UT.

The news marks the latest 6G collaboration, as the wireless industry and governments work to get a head start even as 5G continues to roll out. North America has seen the formation of ATIS’ Next G Alliance, while Europe launched Hexa-X as a flagship 6G initiative, among other efforts.