Nokia to head EU’s flagship 6G initiative

Nokia will lead the European Commission’s 6G research initiative, project Hexa-X, to help lay the foundation for the next generation of wireless and drive the 6G roadmap.

Nokia is the project lead, coordinating the effort, while Ericsson has been tasked as technical manager. Partners involved in the consortium are from academia and industry, including service providers, network vendors, vertical industry players and European research institutes. Orange, TIM, Telefonica, Intel, and Siemens are all partners.

The two-and-a half-year Hexa-X initiative received funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program and starts January 1, 2021.

Nokia is no stranger to pre-standards research and work. Its Nokia Bell Labs industrial research arm, located in New Jersey in the U.S., helped spearhead key 5G technologies used in New Radio specifications like Massive MIMO, millimeter wave access, and 5G stack design. Last week, Nokia announced the Bell Labs Prize winners for 2020.

And Nokia Bell Labs has already been investigating building blocks for 6G.

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“In the 6G era we will see applications that will not only connect humans with machines but also connect humans with the digital world,” said Peter Vetter, head of access and devices research at Nokia Bell Labs, in a statement. “Such a secure and private connection can be used for preventive healthcare or even to create a 6G network with a sixth sense that intuitively understands our intentions, making our interactions with the physical world more effective and anticipating our needs, thereby improving our productivity.”

Meanwhile, as Nokia undergoes organizational changes under new executive leadership, Nokia’s president of Bell Labs and corporate CTO Marcus Weldon confirmed last month that he’s stepping down. Nokia hasn’t announced who will take over to steer the vendor’s corporate strategy and technology functions, including long-term research at Bell Labs.  

For project Hexa-X, overall goals include coming up with novel 6G use cases and scenarios, building the foundational technologies and outlining a new architecture that integrates 6G technology enablers.

RELATED: Samsung research tackles 6G, says use of THz ‘inevitable’

Although 5G is still in the early days of rolling out, many companies are looking ahead and Nokia said it anticipates the typical 10-year technology cycle between generations, with 6G systems launching commercially by 2030.  

A 6G white paper by Samsung released in June suggested that using terahertz (THz) frequencies for mobile communications in the future is inevitable. However, it acknowledged there will be significantly more practical difficulties than we’ve seen in high-band millimeter wave because the propagation characteristics are so poor and difficult to work with.  

In a recent column for FierceWireless, Mobile Experts’ Joe Madden argued that the market shouldn’t chase a physics-challenged speed-driven approach focused on radio signals above 100 GHz for 6G. Instead turning attention to solving the issue of delivering mobile capacity where people are, by tapping spectrum below 6 GHz.  

RELATED: Industry Voices—Madden: We need to steer 6G toward something useful

Together the Hexa-X partners and Nokia Bell Labs laid out the following six challenges it says need to be addressed for the technical basis of 6G wireless systems:

  • Connecting intelligence with AI and machine learning (ML) technologies
  • Creating a “network of networks” where multiple resources are aggregated to great a heterogenous digital ecosystem
  • Sustainability for a reduced global ICT energy footprint
  • Global service coverage to connect remote locations
  • “Extreme experience” with bitrates, imperceptible latencies, “seemingly infinite capacity” and precision localization and sensing
  • Trustworthiness to ensure communications confidentiality and integrity and operational resiliency

Nokia is involved in other European efforts on 6G, as well as North America. The vendor is part of ATIS’ “Next G Alliance” focused on North American leadership in 6G, with members including U.S. and Canadian operators and tech giants like Facebook, Microsoft and Qualcomm.  Ericsson and Samsung also are part of the ATIS 6G coalition.