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Nokia Bell Labs identifies six key technologies for 6G

Telco giant chosen to lead 6G-ANNA, a German-funded project to drive 6G research, standardization

Nokia is leading 6G-ANNA, a German-funded project intended to drive research and standardization efforts into 6G network technology.

While 5G networks have yet to live up to their potential, or even be rolled out in many territories, it seems that the telecoms industry is looking to set the ball rolling for the next wave, even if it may not arrive until the end of the decade.

6G-ANNA [PDF] is described as a "lighthouse project" and is being set up to drive global pre-standardization activities in 6G network technology from a German and European perspective.

This is part of the larger "6G Platform German" national initiative and has been allocated €38.4 million ($38.7 million) over the next three years, with funding coming from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF).

Nokia said it will work closely with other parties in the consortium, which include Vodafone, Siemens, Ericsson, and Bosch, as well as smaller vendors, research institutes, and universities dotted around the Bundesrepublik.

Beyond Germany, the 6G-ANNA consortium also aims to co-operate with other major 6G flagship projects in Europe and the US, such as Hexa-X and the Next G Alliance, to shape global 6G standards.

While 6G is still at an embryonic stage, Nokia Bell Labs has identified six technologies it says will be vital components of future 6G networks. These include obvious things such as new wireless spectrum technologies and security, trust, and privacy, and marketing-led terms such as "AI native air interfaces", "extreme connectivity", and even waffle about enabling the metaverse.

In terms of spectrum bands, 6G is likely to focus on frequencies in the 7GHz to 20GHz region for urban outdoor cells, while sub-terahertz bands will potentially allow for peak data rates exceeding 100Gbps in localized areas. Lower bands in the 460MHz to 694MHz region are expected to allow for wider coverage.

However, Nokia Bell Labs said it expects 6G standardization work will likely start from 2025, leading to the first 6G specification in 3GPP Release 21 by 2028 followed by commercial deployments around 2030.

Teleco analyst Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight told us that it is a bit early to be thinking about 6G networks when 5G is still not widely available, but it is important to consider what 6G capabilities should be and have an open collaborative approach towards a framework and standards.

"Telcos' margins are being squeezed. Huge investment is still required for network rollout and spectrum. This should be considered when the business model for 5G in the consumer world still remains unclear and unproven," Pescatore said.

"We need to avoid the same mistakes made with previous generations to ensure viable services are more accessible and affordable," he said, adding that "it feels like every new generation is coming round far more quickly than key stakeholders would like."

Peter Merz, head of Nokia Standards, said in a statement that his company expects that 6G will not only build on existing technologies and systems, but also expand and transform what a network can do.

"While the first 6G networks are not expected to be commercially available before 2030, we are already laying the technical foundation with 5G-Advanced, as well as long-term innovation that will drive 6G developments."

5G-Advanced is set to be delivered in the 3GPP standards Release 18, due in 2024, and is expected to appear in public and private networks starting in 2025. According to Nokia, this will enable significantly higher capacities than previous 5G releases, improve the user experience by lowering latency, and offer improved reliability when the user is both stationary and on the move. ®

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