By David Murphy
This coming decade promises to be yet another revolutionary one in how we communicate. In a world that is only beginning to embrace 5G technology, several scientific institutions, governments, telecom companies, and phone manufacturers worldwide are beginning to research the development possibilities of its successor—6G technology.
In keeping with the average ten-year cycle of mobile network standards, the race to achieve fully operational 6G wireless networks by 2030 has already begun. For 6G technology to fulfill its potential, it will require refining current wireless communication technologies, material science, computing architecture, chip design and sustainable energy use.
“As 5G is now being deployed worldwide, and as researchers in wireless telecommunications, we need to start brainstorming and planning for what should 6G be,” KAUST Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Mohamed-Slim Alouini noted. “Especially, since over the last four decades, it took us about ten years to design, develop, and deploy one generation of wireless networks and another ten years to start using it extensively until we moved on to the next G.”
The application potential of 6G technology is staggering. From the benign: multisensory XR applications and smart surfaces; to the realms of transhumanist fantasy featuring brain implants and wireless brain to computer interfaces. Alouini believes that, as a society, we should take advantage of this early speculative period in 6G’s evolution and seek to influence its development. A development he feels should be carried out in a positive, sustainable manner, contrary to the previous incarnations, which were largely driven by financial and business goals.
“We need to pursue novel sustainable wireless communication schemes that integrate ground, air, and space networks. 6G technology should encapsulate enhanced energy efficiency, the elimination of harmful effects on the environment and human health, improved digital inclusion, increased user security and privacy, and improvements in mobile networks' resilience, robustness, and dependability,” Alouini emphasized.
Building a digitally inclusive world
Unlike any technology before it, 6G is expected to truly democratize high-speed internet connectivity in under-covered and under-developed regions of the world. This push for global digital equity informs the planning and development of Alouini and his Communication Theory Lab (CTL)’s research at KAUST. His group is currently focusing on solving research challenges that offer the economically and socially isolated peoples of the world the transformative benefits of improved wireless connectivity.
To achieve global digital inclusiveness, the group is pursuing various research directions to develop "thrifty" wireless networks that rely on low-cost backhaul solutions, low-cost access solutions, and low-cost standard smart phones, tablets and phablets that can reap the benefits of the economy of scale.
“My group are busy developing solutions that offer the unconnected global population improved access to better health and education, real-time banking and financial services, smart farming and new jobs that can be executed/conducted remotely.
“The four important research directions we are pursuing revolve around global connectivity and digital inclusiveness for remote, rural and low-income areas. Together with investigating energy-aware communication networks, electro-magnetic field (EMF)-aware communication networks, and enabling communication in "extreme" environments such as underwater, underground, outer-space and within the human body,” Alouini explained.
Emerging and future telecom networks are not only expected to connect the unconnected but also “super-connect” the world’s digital connected by offering higher transmission speeds. These increased connection speeds will enable several futuristic applications such as virtual reality gaming, holographic telepresence technology to mainstream ultra-low latency ultra-reliable remote command and control of autonomous cars and flying vehicles.
“More specifically, we have been studying self-organized non-terrestrial networks that adapt their structure and their resource allocations. Based on ground population density and the quality-of-service requirements utilized by this population of users,” he added.
“This disruptive architectural paradigm is currently attracting significant attention in standardization platforms, in particular for the 5G evolution, and I expect that the research activity in this area will increase even further in the coming years as we move towards the 6G era,” he added.
"Connecting the Unconnected" at the second KAUST 6G Summit
Alouini will be joined by a host of his fellow international experts in internet and Communication Technology (ICT) and Wireless Communications System (WCS) for the upcoming second edition of the 6G Summit on "Connecting the Unconnected" held virtually from September 28 - September 30, 2021.
The online event, organized by Professor Alouini, will be spread over four sessions, five hours, and numerous panels. A host of distinguished guests will analyze and discuss the technical possibilities, social impact and critical considerations in using 6G to provide connectivity and opportunity for all world regions.
“I hope that we can convey to attendees that connecting the unconnected offers, on one hand, some exciting research challenges, and, on the other hand, some great opportunities for our future societies and communities.
“I am excited to see what this mix of world-class researchers from academia and industry and leading voices in policy on digital inclusion can bring to the table as we inch toward the 6G era,” he concluded.