Addressing these physical and technical limitations will require leaps in innovation, but the promise of applications enabled by advanced 6G connectivity is motivating creative solutions.
Adaptive technology solutions are a key area of research. Instead of focusing on optimizing bandwidth for a single device, for example, the 6G network will use nearby devices to help provide needed bandwidth and reduce latency. This 3D signal shaping focuses on combining and processing wireless signals from multiple sources based on their proximity to the end user.
New semiconductor materials will help manage device space requirements as well as handle wider frequency bands. Although it requires complex engineering, one promising approach combines traditional silicon circuits with those made from more exotic compound semiconductors, such as indium phosphide. In addition, researchers are looking at ways to alter the environment with reconfigurable smart surfaces (“smart surfaces”) that can optimize signal propagation to modify signals in real-time to provide better bandwidth and lower latency.
Another avenue of research relies on artificial intelligence to manage networks and optimize communications. Different types of network usage (for example, messaging, gaming, and streaming) create different types of network demand. AI solutions enable a system to predict this demand based on behavioral patterns, rather than requiring engineers to always design for peak levels of demand.
Nichols sees great potential for networking from improvements in artificial intelligence. “Today’s systems are so complex, with so many levers to pull to address different requirements,” says Nichols, “that most optimization decisions are limited to first-order adjustments like more sites, updated radios , better retrieval, more efficient data gateways. , and throttling certain users.” In contrast, using artificial intelligence to handle optimization, he says, presents “a significant opportunity for a move toward autonomous, self-optimizing, self-organizing networks.”
Virtual simulations and digital twin technology are promising tools that will not only aid in 6G innovation, but will be further enabled by 6G once it is established. These emerging technologies can help companies test their products and systems in a sandbox that simulates real-world conditions, allowing device manufacturers and application developers to test concepts in complex environments and create early prototypes of products for networks. 6G.
While engineers and researchers have proposed innovative solutions, Nichols notes that building 6G networks will also require consensus among technology providers, operators and carriers. As the rollout of 5G networks continues, industry players must create a cohesive vision of what applications the next-generation network will support and how their technologies will work together.
It is this collaboration and complexity, however, that can generate the most exciting and lasting results. Nichols notes that the breadth of engineering specialties required to build 6G, and the industry collaboration needed to launch it, will drive exciting interdisciplinary innovation. Because of the resulting demand for new solutions, the road to 6G will be paved, in Nichols’ words, with “a tremendous amount of technical research, development and innovation from electronics to semiconductors, to antennas, to radio network systems, to protocols of the Internet to artificial intelligence for cyber security.”
This content is produced by Insights, the custom content arm of MIT Technology Review. It is not written by the MIT Technology Review editorial staff.