Qualcomm’s John Smee lays out path to 6G

Speaking at this week’s Brooklyn 6G Summit, Qualcomm’s SVP of Engineering John Smee took a bird’s-eye view at the 5G landscape and the evolution to 6G.

He noted that 5G standardization work began with Release 15 and has now progressed through Release 16 and 17, which just finished. Release 17 moved into new technologies, such as non-terrestrial networks and the introduction of New Radio Reduced Capability (NR-RedCap) for the internet of things (IoT).

NR-RedCap only needs 10 MHz bandwidth to achieve a data rate of 150 Mbps and can reduce the power consumption of IoT devices. It is expected to be adopted in places where power supply is unavailable and high-speed transmission is required.

Smee considers the next phase with Releases 18, 19 and 20 as the “5G Advanced” era, culminating in 6G around the year 2030.

The 5G Advanced era will continue to improve core foundational aspects like MIMO and “even making sure we’re designing things like integrated access and backhaul or new approaches for repeaters to extend that topology into more flexible framework,” said Smee.

Release 18 will move heavily into topics like artificial intelligence and machine learning and technologies for extended reality and the metaverse. These technologies will be built natively into 6G.

He said not only will AI be built natively in the network, “but then also on the device.” 

Merging of the worlds

Smee said we’re moving into a merging of physical and virtual technologies. “In the physical world that we’re in today, so many more devices are being connected,” he said. “But that data on those devices is also being digitized. That’s giving a huge amount of new traffic from the artificial intelligence and machine learning data itself being exchanged. That digitization and the formation of digital twins is also creating a huge need for communication.”

He talked a little about the evolution of spectrum use. “Efficiently using spectrum, and at the same time enabling more advanced co-existence mechanisms, that’s going to be key to realizing new applications both in public networks, private networks and hybrid networks,” he said. And he envisions a 6G future with “a more dynamic approach to coordination.”

And there will be the ability to use new frequency bands, “whether it’s 140 GHz in sub-terahertz or even evolving how we’re able to use bands already in use today, whether it’s sub-6 GHz, 7 GHz, bands between 10 and 15 GHz or even looking at mmWave,” he said.

In addition to an evolving network topology, there will likely be advances in silicon, material science and new techniques for power management. “And we have to put all of that together with an evolving compute topology framework,” said Smee. “What is being virtualized? What is being containerized? How can we have end-to-end updating?”

To summarize, he said, “So here we are in 2022. We’re at an exciting point of inflection where the standardization of 5G Advanced is going to begin. And at the same time, that core foundational research pushing 5G Advanced and also driving new frameworks for 6G is already in full force.”