The Japanese operators have announced new trials with NEC, Fujitsu, and Nokia to explore 6G technology development

Today, NTT and NTT DOCOMO have announced their plans to collaborate on the development of 6G technology with numerous partners, planning trials with Fujitsu, NEC, and Nokia.

While 6G technology is largely undefined, with most industry bodies aiming for commercialisation around 2030, it is already clear that the technology will be required to offer faster speeds, lower latencies, and a larger capacity than its predecessor wireless technology, 5G. 

To achieve this, higher frequencies than those currently used for mobile services will be required, with most industry bodies suggesting that frequencies of between 100 GHz and 300 GHz will be best suited for these services. 

However, as frequencies get higher, their propagation becomes weaker, meaning that they are not only shorter ranged but also become more easily blocked by obstacles, whether a solid wall or even the human body itself. In fact, currently 5G services being delivered over higher mmWave spectrum (typically using spectrum in the 24GHz to 40GHz range) are already facing similar difficulties, having trouble penetrating into buildings and requiring alternative deployment strategies to be successful.

As a result, mobile networks using sub-terahertz frequency bands will require more dense small cell deployments, as well as advances in other technologies like beamforming, to ensure that devices can connect effectively.

This is exactly the challenge that Fujitsu is aiming to solve with Docomo and NTT, with the joint trials set to explore multiple-input and multiple-output (MIMO) deployments where multiple sub-terahertz wave antennas are dispersed to simultaneously emit radio waves from multiple directions to a receiving terminal. In this way, the companies hope to provide reliable connectivity in these frequency bands and overcome issues created by environmental obstacles.

Fujitsu also says it will seek to develop high-frequency wireless devices utilizing compound semiconductors.

At the same time, NTT and DOCOMO have announced a similar deal with NEC, also focussing on distributed MIMO technology for sub-terahertz frequencies, but also OAM multiplex transmission technology, aiming to boost network capacity through spatial multiplexing of the high-frequency radio waves.

Finally, a third partnership as been struck with Nokia, aiming to jointly define and develop key technologies related to 6G. The partnership will reportedly focus on developing an AI-native air interface and sub-terahertz radio access, with trials planned to take place in 2022 at both NTT and DOCOMO’s facilities in Japan and Nokia’s premises in Germany.

While the global mobile ecosystem is still very much in the early stages of 5G development, this is not stopping numerous operators around the world from firing up their R&D departments in an attempt to gain an early lead in 6G. 

Furthermore, as communications technology becomes increasingly politicised, 6G targets are also beginning to be announced by national governments. Earlier this year, the Indian government announced that it would aim to deploy domestically made 6G equipment by 2030, thereby offering a major boost to the Indian economy and reducing the country’s dependence on typical telecoms equipment vendors like Nokia, Ericsson, and Huawei.  

6G may only now be beginning to be defined, but the race to achieve 6G milestones has already begun. 

How is the telecoms industry preparing for 6G? Find out the latest developments in this emerging technology at this year’s live Total Telecom Congress

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