6G Communications Curious Progress

6G Communications Curious Progress

Dr Peter Harrop
6G Communications Curious Progress
Too much theory, too little practice; 6G Communications promises between ten to one hundred times the download speed for operating unpowered devices, remote holographic surgery and much more, but it will depend on how high a frequency is chosen and how much infrastructure investment is made. Some say first deployment will be around 2024-2027 but even the frequency is, as yet, undecided. China National Intellectual Property Administration claims to have 35% of the around 38,000 patents related to 6G so the race is on. See the IDTechEx report "6G Communications Market, Devices, Materials 2021-2041" for more.

Delay number one

The 6G standards will come from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). For 5G it took more than eight years. How long for 6G? 2025 is slated but knowing the likely frequency (or frequencies) earlier would be precious because they hugely influence the hardware to be developed. 0.1THz hardware is very different from 1THz and much easier to provide but, of course, it offers far less advance on 5G.

Delay number two

Even the theoreticians volunteer that there is plenty of theory but precious little work developing the hardware. Analyst IDTechEx has made it clear that, for the full benefits, something near to 1THz in the far-infrared is needed but such emissions are feeble and greatly affected by water. For example, in August 2021, using a new LG power amplifier LG Electronics and Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft trumpeted that they have transmitted data at these frequencies over 100 meters in an outdoor setting in Germany, smashing Samsung's previous milestone of 15m. That will be less on a humid or rainy day and even progressing to 200 meters or so in all weather conditions implies that these line-of-sight emissions must be redirected by smart surfaces indoors and outdoors - everywhere.

Timing uncertain

Japan is devoting $482 million to create the missing 6G technologies by 2025. Samsung sees a mass rollout starting 2030, as does IDTechEx provided the right actions are put in place. However, in 2021, the Russian R&D institute NIIR and the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology predicted 2035.

Metamaterial hardware

Metamaterials are repetitively patterned layers on a dielectric where the nature and the positioning of the patterns, usually metal, can manipulate radiation in previously impossible ways. Integrating challenging semiconductor arrays suitable for these frequencies means the beam can be polarised, collimated, and redirected in a reprogrammable way, without moving parts. In advanced versions, the metasurface could focus the beam to a moving target, charge your phone while you use it, and even operate unpowered devices. NTT DoCoMo talks about 6G making it, "possible for cyberspace to support human thought and action in real-time through wearable devices and micro-devices mounted on the human body."

Metasurfaces everywhere

The IDTechEx report, "6G Communications Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces Roadmap, Materials, Market 2021-2045" looks very closely at the necessary metasurfaces everywhere. They represent a large new market for printed and flexible electronics integrated with diode and transistor arrays in drive and computation layers. Later the semiconductors will be printed and photovoltaic power integrated but, right now, few are trying to make even the basic versions.

Metamaterial companies

The IDTechEx report, "Metamaterial and Metasurface Markets Electromagnetic 2022-2042" looks at the metamaterial hardware industry generally with roadmaps and market forecasts. Of 18 companies profiled, most are vertically integrated, impressively supplying metasurfaces as part of their body scanners, military radar, optical instruments, and so on but nothing very price sensitive. Just one is optimizing high-volume, low-cost versions to be sold horizontally across all sectors and that is Metamaterials Inc. Expect it to take great interest in 6G because its reel-to-reel lithography and multi-layer assembly are highly appropriate, even resulting in transparent versions. We need more companies like this.
Raghu Das, CEO of IDTechEx advises, "We are optimistic about 6G because it is so much more than advanced radiotelephony. From sensing to healthcare, positioning, distributed computing, and the Internet of Things it can be transformative. However, we need those standards sooner rather than later and much more work on the necessary reprogrammable intelligent surfaces. Even if that is now forthcoming, widespread rollout by 2030 will still be challenging but well worthwhile. For example, how do we reduce the massive metasurface installation costs? No metasurfaces: no 6G. It is as simple as that."
For the full portfolio of 6G related research available from IDTechEx please visit www.IDTechEx.com/Research/6G.
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