6G Technology and Policy Barrels Toward Its 2030 Launch
Slated for commercial launch in 2030, 6G wireless technology is progressing in labs and conferences around the world.
As the global telecommunications industry grapples with the rollout of 5G technology, many have already their sights set on 6G wireless connectivity. Offering even faster data rates and better reliability, 6G has the potential to revolutionize wireless connectivity and unlock unprecedented use cases.
Here is a roundup of some recent policy- and research-level developments that may support the realization of 6G.
6G at the World Radiocommunication Conference
At this year's World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) discussed the allocation and harmonization of the radio frequency spectrum for terrestrial and space-based communication systems.
World Radiocommunication Conference. Image used courtesy of the ITU
The ITU decided to allocate new mobile low-band spectrum below 1 GHz and mid-band spectrum in the 3.5 GHz and 6 GHz ranges. This spectrum allocation is critical for the development and deployment of future telecommunications technologies, including 6G. Beyond that, a specific decision that garnered attention was the allocation of the 6.425–7.125 GHz frequency band, also known as the upper-6 GHz band. While the conference participants discussed the future of 6G, it is noteworthy that some viewed this focus as premature, considering unresolved issues with 5G technology.
In addition to spectrum allocation for mobile services, WRC-23 also addressed regulations for high-altitude platform stations and evolving satellite operations.
World’s First Metasurface Antenna for 6G
On the research front, a team at the City University of Hong Kong has developed the "world’s first universal metasurface antenna" (UMA) for 6G communications.
Traditional manipulation of EM waves largely depends on the propagation effect of naturally existing materials like lenses and modulators, which are bulky and unfit for modern integrated systems. Metasurfaces, on the other hand, enable wave-matter interactions within an ultrathin artificial surface. However, creating a metasurface that can simultaneously and independently control all EM wave properties, including amplitude, phase, frequency, polarization, and momentum, has been a long-standing challenge.
Test setup of the UMA. Image used courtesy of Nature
The researchers set out to develop a UMA that dynamically manipulates all fundamental properties of EM waves simultaneously and independently. The team achieved this capability through software-defined methods, enabling complex waveform generation, beamforming, and direct information manipulation. The UMA's major breakthrough lies in its ability to introduce an additional dimension of time into conventional metasurface design. This integration facilitates complex physical phenomena and manipulations in frequency-momentum spaces.
According to the researchers, the UMA is particularly adept at generating modulated waveforms carrying digital information, a feature that can simplify the architecture of information transmitter systems. This development opens the door to new possibilities in EM wave engineering, offering more precise and versatile control than previously possible.
Photonic Chips for 6G
Another team of researchers at the University of Sydney has also made headway in 6G technology with a compact, chip-scale microwave photonic (MWP) filter.
Despite the crucial role that RF filters play in microwave systems, conventional RF filter technologies struggle to meet the demands for fine spectral resolution, broadband frequency tunability, and small size, weight, and power requirements simultaneously. MWP filters address these limitations by leveraging the broadband and tunable nature of optical components.
The schematic and subsystem chip layouts of the MWP. Image used courtesy of Nature
Key to the new research was the use of stimulated Brillouin scattering (SBS), a third-order nonlinear acousto-optic interaction that provides a narrow optical resonant linewidth and stability. SBS enables fine spectral resolution and tunability without the limitations of free spectral range (FSR)—a significant advantage over other MWP filter technologies. The use of chalcogenide glasses, which have high Brillouin gain coefficients, further enhances the performance of these filters.
The filter consisted of an electro-optic modulator, a Brillouin waveguide, and a photodetector. This integration resulted in fine spectral resolution processing, achieving 51 dB out-of-band rejection with a narrow 37 MHz 3-dB bandwidth, and tunable notch central frequencies over 15 GHz. Researchers believe the chip could have significant implications in fields like 6G and even 7G communications.
The Schedule of 6G Rollout
While 6G technology is still years away from commercialization, developers, researchers, and technology policymakers are already preparing spectrum allocation and hardware to accommodate the faster speeds of this bandwidth.
The development and standardization of the 6G specification is scheduled for 2025–2029, with its official launch slated for 2030. While researchers like those at the City University of Hong Kong and the University of Sydney have already begun early studies and prototyping, formal lab testing and pilots for commercial 6G products aren't expected until 2028.