South Korea kickstarts 6G plans

South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT this week established a 6G R&D implementation plan that calls for investing around $194 million by 2025 in six focus areas.

The plan targets government investment totaling KRW 17.9 billion ($15.78 million) in 2021 across 10 strategic technologies, including Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, with KRW 220 billion within four years.

The technologies correlate with the focus areas, including performance, Terahertz bands, space communications, ultra-precision; artificial intelligence; and reliability.

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Specifically MSIT outlined strategic technologies that include Tbps-capable wireless and optical communication for maximum 1 Tbps speeds; Terahertz RF components and spectrum model for bands between 100-300 GHz; space mobile and satellite communications to help expand support altitude to 10 km above ground; end-to-end ultra-precision networking for 1/10 latency compared to 5G; intelligent wireless access and network with a focus on applying AI to all sections of the network; and technology for constant network quality monitoring for 5G focused on embedded security.

This year the focus is on laying the groundwork for technologies and identifying technical requirements for key areas of the 6G network. The government is also establishing 6G research centers at three universities in 2021, including KAIST, Sungkyunkwan University and Korea University.

South Korea is also targeting leadership in international standards and patents, with an emphasis on active public-private cooperation in the early stages of 6G.

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“As next-generation communications network lays foundation for digital innovation, the public and private sector should work together to take challenges in leading global market in 6G era based on our experiences and knowhow in network,” said Minister Lim Hyesook of Science and ICT. “Furthermore, as both countries have solid foundation for collaboration thanks to Korea-U.S. Summit, we will work together in the early stage of 6G deployment based on such cooperation. We will continue to closely cooperate with relevant ministries, large companies and small and medium-sized enterprises to secure competitiveness in the future and further strengthen Korea’s position as a digital powerhouse.”

In May U.S. and South Korea agreed to encourage joint R&D on emerging technology including 6G.

South Korea and the U.S. signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) through the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the South Korean Institute of Information & Communications Technology Planning & Evaluation (IITP) for collaborative research opportunities, including 6G.

South Korea plans to promote joint studies on core 6G technologies and spectrum, including 11 studies with the U.S., one study with China and two studies with Finland. The country’s 5G Forum will sign MoUs for 6G collaboration with organizations in the private sector, like the Next G Alliance in the U.S.

While 5G deployments are still largely in early phases, industry and governments are turning an eye toward 6G. Europe started a flagship program called Hexa-X, targeting 6G leadership. Groups like ATIS’ Next G Alliance in North America are looking to form next steps and roadmaps for 6G. China has indicated the start of 6G efforts as well.

The U.S. and U.K. earlier this month announced plans to create a detailed science and technology partnership agreement, including collaboration on 6G.

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Executives from Qualcomm and Ericsson testified on Wednesday before the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology for a legislative hearing focused on securing U.S. wireless networks and supply chain.

Qualcomm SVP of Spectrum Strategy & Tech Policy Dean Brenner said at the hearing that 5G still has a long runway, but the company has started early work on 6G. He emphasized that there won’t be 6G without spectrum, allocated by the FCC, and that spectrum and technology interactions need to take place at a very early stage.

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Jason Boswell, head of security and network product solutions for Ericsson North America, said before the subcommittee that if they had not already started on the race to 6G, “we would already be behind.”

In addition to the vendor’s own R&D, he noted it’s important to show collaborations including public-private partnerships. Boswell cited involvement with the NSF RINGS (Resilient & Intelligent NextG Systems) program, noting a focus on potentially significantly impactful technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, kilohertz spectrum. There will be many different things needed to take advantage of 6G – “not just make it go faster,” he added.