Just as it is ramping up the production of 5G equipment to support the roll-out out of next-generation infrastructures for operators around the world, Nokia has been appointed as the project leader for Hexa-X, the European Commission’s 6G flagship initiative for research into the next generation of wireless networks.
The Hexa-X project has the stated mission to connect human, physical and digital worlds with a fabric of 6G technology enablers. Slated to start on 1 January 2021, with a planned duration of two-and-a-half years, Hexa-X is said to be the first official research initiative across the industry ecosystem to accelerate and foster 6G research and drive European leadership in the 6G era.
The project’s goals include creating unique 6G use cases and scenarios, developing fundamental 6G technologies and defining a new architecture for an intelligent fabric that integrates key 6G technology enablers.
The Hexa-X project has been awarded funding from the European Commission under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, a significant step towards bringing together key industry stakeholders in Europe to take the lead in advancing 6G. The stakeholders are said to represent the full value chain of future connectivity solutions, ranging from network suppliers and communications service providers to verticals and technology providers, along with the most prominent European communications research institutes.
The project members believe that by 2030 – when 6G systems are expected to launch commercially following the typical 10-year cycle between generations – Europe and the world will face opportunities and challenges of growth and sustainability. They add that a powerful vision will be needed to connect the physical, digital and human worlds. The Hexa-X vision calls for an x-enabler fabric of connected intelligence, networks of networks, sustainability, global service coverage, extreme experience and trustworthiness.
The project regards wireless technologies as of critical relevance for society and the economy already and that their importance for growth will continue to steadily increase with 5G and its evolution, enabling new ecosystems and services motivated by strongly growing traffic and trillions of devices. The ambition of the Hexa-X project includes developing key technology enablers in the areas of new radio access technologies at high frequencies and high-resolution localisation, connected intelligence through artificial intelligence air interfaces and enablers for network disaggregation and dynamic dependability.
Peter Vetter, Nokia Bell Labs
With Nokia taking the project lead – working closely with a consortium of European partners including fellow comms tech firm Ericsson and Italian operator TIM – Hexa-X will aim to connect the physical, digital and human worlds, and stay “firmly anchored” in future wireless technology and architectural research.
Attempting to establish its credentials in gaining its role, Nokia noted that it has been at the forefront in commercialising every generation of wireless technology and that its industrial research arm, Nokia Bell Labs, has pioneered many of the fundamental technology innovations that are being used to develop 5G standards.
Building on this heritage, Nokia added that it was currently involved in joint research and pre-standardisation work regarding 6G, with Nokia Bell Labs already researching the fundamental technologies that will comprise 6G.
“Even though there is still a lot of innovation in 5G with the release of new standards, we are already exploring 6G in our research lab,” said Peter Vetter, head of access and devices research at Nokia Bell Labs.
“In the 6G era, we will see applications that not only connect humans with machines, but also connect humans with the digital world. 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.”
Nokia Bell Labs and the Hexa-X consortium have identified six research challenges that need to be addressed to lay the technical foundation for 6G wireless systems:
- Connecting intelligence: Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies need to be a vital and trusted tool for significantly improved efficiency and service experience, serving humans.
- Network of networks: Multiple types of resources need to be aggregated to create a digital ecosystem that grows more and more capable, intelligent and heterogeneous, eventually creating a single network of networks.
- Sustainability: Energy-optimised digital infrastructure for a reduced global ICT environmental footprint, as well as delivering effective and sustainable digitisation tools for global industry, society and policy-makers.
- Global service coverage: Efficient and affordable solutions for global service coverage, connecting remote places.
- Extreme experience: Extreme bit rates, extremely low (imperceptible) latencies, seemingly infinite capacity, and precision localisation and sensing.
- Trustworthiness: Ensuring the confidentiality and integrity of communications and delivering data privacy, operational resilience and security.
In addition to Hexa-X, Nokia is also actively involved in the 6Genesis 6G research programme funded by the Academy of Finland and led by the University of Oulu, and Horizon Europe Smart Networks and Services, which aims to secure European leadership for the development and deployment of next-generation network technologies and services, while accelerating European industry digitisation.