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Make haste slowly - the long and winding road to 6G

To ensure a robust and shared 6G vision, we need urgency in the coming year and investment in new basic technologies that will be required to achieve the 6G vision. Join Ericsson’s Ali Khayrallah as he describes the long and winding road to 6G in this blog post.

Senior Scientist, Radio Networks

#6G #6Gresearch
Make haste slowly - the long and winding road to 6G

Senior Scientist, Radio Networks

Senior Scientist, Radio Networks

#6G #6Gresearch

Just when you thought 5G was taking over the world of mobile, here comes 6G! What’s the hurry? Of course, 5G is still ramping up, and there are multiple waves of initial deployments and upgrades yet to happen all over the world. It’s a long and winding road to 6G, and there are no shortcuts. As I try to articulate in this post, we need urgency in the coming year to ensure a robust and shared 6G vision and investment in new basic technologies that will be required to achieve the 6G vision, from a US perspective. I like the expression “make haste slowly” and I think it captures our stance on 6G nicely.

First, let’s briefly recap our Ericsson 6G vision, which you can read about in our 6G white paper that was just updated. Then let’s give some sense of timing for 6G, including activities in the 3GPP standardization and ITU bodies. And finally, let’s mention the impressive progress that has happened over the past year or so on 6G research in the US context, including ATIS NGA and its roadmap document; the NSF RINGS partnership, the NSF PAWR partnership, the NSF SpectrumX center; the SRC JUMP 2.0 program with DARPA; and the EU-US TTC. I will also sketch out my wish list for the next potential research programs and partnerships on 6G.

But before we go down the research rabbit hole, it’s fair to ask: Why should Ericsson be so involved in all this? In our view, the early phase of research should be precompetitive in nature, allowing relatively close collaboration with academia and within industry, and resulting in openly available published outcomes. We need to join forces with others to create and sustain the initial momentum, and this can only happen with cooperation and openness. Momentum is also sustained with the patient support of government funding agencies for academic research, as well as partnerships between industry and academia.

Later as we move to a pre-standards phase and a full competition, companies would choose to champion certain basic technologies and further tune and reduce them to practice internally. Some of these technologies become part of standard contributions or proprietary product solutions.

As I see it, we have a once in a generation opportunity for an “Apollo moment” in mobile, where the best and brightest will flock to study and investigate the research topics that make our vision a reality. I want to have the full confidence to ask the most promising students: Do you want to investigate cat videos or 6G?

The Ericsson 6G Vision

For the past couple of years, Ericsson has been socializing its vision for the next generation mobile networks. In the latest iteration of our vision white paper 6G – connecting a cyber-physical world, we have summarized this vision in terms of four drivers:

  1. Trustworthiness of the systems at the heart of society.
  2. Sustainability through the efficiency of mobile technology.
  3. Accelerated automatization and digitalization to simplify and improve our lives.
  4. A limitless connectivity meeting the demands for intensifying communication anywhere, anytime, and for anything.

6G – connecting a cyber-physical world

Read the white paper

As a consequence, wireless connectivity becomes an integrated, fundamental part of society, and 6G will make it possible to move in a cyber-physical continuum. To achieve this vision, we need to move beyond the technical limits of 5G and its natural evolution to 5G Advanced. We identify six new technical capabilities: Critical Services, Immersive Communication, Omnipresent IoT, Spatio-temporal Services, Compute-AI services, and Global Broadband.

The road to 5G

For instance, immersive communication will deliver a full telepresence experience, removing distance as a barrier to interaction. One example will be a ubiquitous use of mixed reality in public transport, offering separate virtual experiences for each passenger, being able to run virtual errands, and having games overlaid on the physical world.

3GPP timeline and 6G – studies to start in 2024

As a stake in the ground, we can think of 2030 as the year of the first large scale 6G deployments. It is notable that the ITU is planning to issue its IMT-2030 vision document in 2023, and the 3GPP timeline calls for the studies on 6G to start in 2024, so 6G doesn’t sound so far into the future anymore! Granted, such activities are the first among many steps that will eventually lead to a standard specification several years later, say 2028. Nevertheless, we know from past experience that once standardization bodies get involved, the funnel of technologies under consideration to become part of the eventual 6G standards and products narrows quickly. This is another reason for the urgency.


Ericsson was instrumental in setting up the NGA (Next Generation Alliance) under ATIS (Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions). Ericsson serves as Vice Chair of NGA.

The NGA membership comprises more than 50 organizations, including telecom vendors, mobile operators, cloud players, academic institutions and US government agencies. This varied and powerful group has the technical competence, visionary thinking and credibility to promote the importance of 6G for the benefit of society, and engage in dialogue with government to secure funding from various agencies towards research projects that deliver on the 6G vision.

In our view, NGA’s priority is to reduce friction in the interactions between industry, academia and government, and facilitate the initiation of research activities. Thus, NGA serves as a community, with information sharing about funding opportunities, matchmaking among different parties to coalesce around projects of common interest, reporting on research outcomes, organizing workshops with funding agencies, and more.

ATIS NGA roadmap to 6G

The NGA roadmap working group just issued its Roadmap to 6G report in February 2022. The report identifies 6 “audacious goals”: 1. Trust, Security, and Resilience; 2. Digital World Experience; 3. Cost Efficiency; 4. Distributed Cloud and Communications Systems; 5. AI-Native Future Network; and 6. Sustainability. The draft also identifies a framework for a North American 6G vision with 3 levels: 1. National Imperatives; 2. Applications and Markets; and 3. Technology Development.

US-based research initiatives

Let’s now turn to the US research initiatives that feed into 6G. Here, there is emphasis on large multi-party programs, but I would be remiss if I didn’t briefly mention our engagement in a number of exciting university collaborations that fit within our overall 6G effort. In particular, in the past year or so we have ramped up two projects with MIT, one on Lithium-based devices for computing, and one on zero-power devices and the network protocols to serve them. We also have collaborations with NYU, Stanford, Rutgers, Berkeley, and others.

NSF RINGS partnership

The NSF RINGS (Resilient and Intelligent NextG Systems) partnership was launched successfully in 2021. The proposal rubric encouraged systems research by requiring each project to cover topics from two groups: Resilient Networks and Enabling Technologies. Ericsson was involved all the way from initial discussions with potential partners and NSF, to shaping the call for proposals, to the launch. The partnership consists of 9 industry partners: Ericsson, Apple, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Nokia, Qualcomm and VMware, and government partners Department of Defense and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The total funding budget is USD 40 Million, and the nominal number of projects is 40, with each project receiving about USD 1 Million over 3 years.

The call for proposals went out in April, 2021, and more than 200 proposals were received. The extensive reviews by NSF panels and industry partners is almost complete and the decisions are being finalized by NSF, with the winners to be announced in the coming weeks. This was an arduous and sometimes contentious process (I personally provided some of the contention), but it shows that a large and diverse group of partners can find common ground and make progress. We look forward to seeing several dozen projects blossom with our support.

NSF PAWR partnership

The NSF PAWR partnership has been ongoing for a few years, with 30 partners including Ericsson, AT&T, Verizon, Samsung, Nokia, Juniper, Interdigital, Qualcomm and Intel to name a few. The goal is to build infrastructure for wireless research. Three testbeds are now up and running: COSMOS in NYC (NYU, Rutgers U, Columbia U); POWDER in Salt Lake City, UT (U of Utah, Rice U); and AERPAW in RTP, NC (NCSU, Mississippi State U, Purdue), where Ericsson provided equipment and services for an end-to-end 4G/5G network. A new site has been selected in June 2021, ARA in Ames, IA (Iowa State U, UC Irvine, Ohio State U), and Ericsson will supply commercial-grade equipment for this testbed.

NSF SpectrumX center

SpectrumX won the NSF spectrum innovation center award in September 2021, and it will receive USD 25 million over 5 years. SpectrumX consists of 29 academic institutions led by Notre Dame University. Its goal is “to solve radio spectrum challenges that are critical to the nation” and will develop new ways to share and manage spectrum. This project is supported by the Spectrum Innovation Initiative, a collaboration between NSF, NTIA and the FCC.

SRC JUMP 2.0 program

JUMP 2.0 is a new initiative between SRC (Semiconductor Research Corporation) and DARPA. SRC is an electronics industry consortium and has funded hundreds of academic projects over the years. Its ongoing JUMP (Joint University Micro-electronics Program), in collaboration with DARPA, supports long term research in sensing, communication, computing, etc., including the ComSenTer project which covers technologies for future mobile infrastructure with a focus on sub-tera Hertz frequencies. JUMP 2.0 is the follow-up initiative, and among its research themes are communications and connectivity, intelligent sensing, and distributed compute.

Next potential US initiatives

With all the above activities under way, Ericsson is actively looking for the next initiatives to build on their momentum and further energize the research effort. It is likely that the next phase of 6G research funding will tend towards larger projects. The rationale is that as the dominant research topics and their leading proponents emerge in the first phase, the funding agencies can make fewer but larger bets. We could use the 6 audacious goals of the NGA roadmap to jump start the discussion. That is, we would propose new research partnerships, with each anchored in one or more of the goals.

A partnership’s composition is just as important as its goals. We strongly believe that the success of 6G hinges on engaging with industry segments besides telecom where the US dominates, for example, in software, cloud, AI, and electronics, and leveraging their enormous resources. We will look to partner with companies from those segments.  

International collaborations  

We are also on the lookout for new opportunities in international research collaborations. Of particular interest to Ericsson is the formation of the EU-US Trade and Technology Council (TTC) in June 2021, to promote transatlantic cooperation, reduce barriers to trade, etc. The technology side includes supporting collaborative research, cooperating on developing compatible and international standards, and promoting innovation. One of the TTC working groups aims to “reinforce cooperation on research and innovation for beyond 5G and 6G systems” and “develop a common vision and roadmap for preparing the next generation of communication technologies towards 6G”. Music to our ears!

We wish to craft a new transatlantic initiative that resonates with the themes of the TTC. We hope to leverage the willingness of the US and EU to fund such a project. Ericsson is eminently placed to understand the funding landscapes on either side and serve as a bridge to facilitate and shape this effort.


I hope I conveyed to you the combination of urgency and patience that constitute making haste slowly towards 6G. It’s all about providing a long enough runway for research to mature into 6G. From this perspective, I believe it is time to work towards the next 6G initiative.

I am very excited about the future of mobile networks and their purpose in enabling people to thrive. I am the strong brooding type, but you can sense my enthusiasm from my liberal use of exclamation points!

Like this post? Find out more about what Ericsson is doing in the 6G arena.

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