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Antennas and 6G: Making perfect sense in a new reality 

  • Future antenna systems will be crucial to unleashing the full potential of 6G, with global research activities continuing today at a relentless pace. 

  • Antennas in the era of 6G will enable ubiquitous distributed MIMO that unlocks extreme performance, joint communication and sensing that intuitively maps our surrounding, and three-dimensional connectivity that seamlessly merges ground, air and satellite coverage. 

  • Jan Mertens, Head of R&D at Ericsson Antenna System, lays out Ericsson’s vision for antenna systems in the era of 6G and how this can play into key societal- and sustainability demands. 

Head of R&D Ericsson Antenna System

#6G #antennas
6G network in urban environment

Head of R&D Ericsson Antenna System

Head of R&D Ericsson Antenna System

#6G #antennas

Imagine your world in ten years’ time. 

Imagine a programmable future where connected intelligent machines are seamlessly integrated into our homes, streets and cities, where future networks blur the boundaries between physical and digital worlds. 

Imagine an infinite world of data that can interact in real time with people, machines, vehicles and other infrastructures to create an always-on, omnipresent cyber-physical continuum.  

For much of my career, I have been committed to developing new technological possibilities such as this. First, by advancing the nanophotonic fundaments required to build next generation ultra-sensitive sensors, and then by developing autonomous driving solutions that can intuitively sense nearby surroundings in real time.  

Today, as Head of R&D at Ericsson Antenna System, it’s time to put the final puzzle pieces together, creating a network infrastructure that can connect infinite amounts of devices and users, creating  cyber-physical possibilities based on sensing data. This can give new life to futuristic use cases such as massive digital twinning, merged reality, and situational awareness.

Future antennas will open new opportunities in the 2030 cyber-physical continuum  

Making such a world possible will require trustworthy, limitless connectivity with an integrated network compute fabric that can transform the network from pure connectivity to an innovation platform. To support this, it is important that 6G is deployed on both existing and new frequency bands, in particular cmWaves (7-15 GHz). In some very niche use cases, sub-terahertz frequencies may be useful in a later phase of 6G.

What is a cyber-physical continuum?

6G makes it possible to move in a cyber-physical continuum, between the connected physical world of senses, actions, and experiences and its programmable digital representation.

Vast amounts of sensors embedded in the physical world send data to update the digital representation in real time. Actuators in the real world carry out commands from intelligent agents in the digital world. It becomes possible to trace back and analyze events, observe, and act in real-time, as well as to simulate, predict, and program future actions.

Learn more about the cyber-physical continuum on Ericsson’s 6G pages.


While this network platform can provide the intelligence and full synchronization of the cyber-physical continuum, it cannot directly interface with our physical world. Embedded sensors and actuators will allow for the seamless interaction with our physical world, connected to each other and the network via gateways that are resilient, reliable, energy- and spectrally efficient, and capable of serving new and existing frequency ranges: the antennas, the gateways between the physical and digital world. 

These demands define the blueprint for future antennas which we are advancing across our R&D centers worldwide today. 

Continued improvements to mechanical- and electrical radiation performance will remain key milestones on this journey, as will site footprint improvements and energy savings. However, meeting the challenges beyond 2030 will also fundamentally change the paradigm of antenna design and network topologies. 

We envision a future where antennas can reconfigure on-demand to react to network and traffic changes in real-time, through new novel designs and intelligent metamaterials.  

In a significant architectural shift, we are working towards a new wireless access infrastructure made from a fabric of distributed radio, compute and storage, delivering ubiquitous wireless access and a perception of zero latency with quasi-infinite capacity. 

Our R&D work is underpinned by many research initiatives that we are driving together with our partners across industrial and academic ecosystems. This includes explorative work to develop new antenna concepts such as distributed MIMO. It also includes the recently announced MECT project that will receive up to EUR 8.1 billion in public funding to drive semiconductor technology advancements and lay the foundation for future 6G Massive MIMO radios (part of the IPCEI funding). 

Let me share some insights from those projects as well as others.

The road to ubiquitous distributed Massive MIMO  

Beyond 2030, we are working towards a vision of an omnipresent wireless access architecture of radio, compute, and storage – where antennas are distributed closer to users across a wider geographical area. This will be key to enabling a much denser network, one that can deliver high bandwidth and address massive capacity needs of the cyber-physical continuum.  

Today, we are advancing the concept of synchronized distributed MIMO. This means that, instead of large MIMO arrays, tomorrow’s antennas will be distributed across a wider space, allowing future users to be served by an optimal subset of the MIMO system. 

We are contributing to this research by exploring new concepts of distributed radiator technology, as well as hybrid beamforming system engineering. With such a distributed network, homogeneous coverage and seamless handover-free mobility becomes a distinct possibility. 

The MassIMO project, a collaborative effort between industry and academia, aims to develop a distributed multi-antenna system using new semiconductor technology and novel radio architectures to improve energy efficiency. Ericsson Antenna System, as an industry partner in the project, is contributing to the development of low-profile distributed antenna concepts for communications in new frequency ranges, such as 7 - 15 GHz. The project’s ambition is to strengthen Germany's and Europe's technological sovereignty in the field of semiconductor. 

Today, our flagship MECT (European Microelectronics and Communication Technologies for 6G) is driving the necessary semiconductor technology advancements in this area, laying the enabling foundation for 6G distributed MIMO and the future of the cyber-physical continuum.

The road to high-precision localization and integrated omnipresent sensing  

The deployment of Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) in the network will enable opportunities for integrated localization, sensing, and imaging.  

This could open transformative opportunities on the application side, providing a foundation for the cyber-physical continuum through real-time mapping of the environment. It will also enable new ways to improve network performance and efficiency through proactive radio resource allocation and real-time waveform reconfiguration. 

So how does it all work on a street level?  

In this scenario, the radio system – aided by the antenna – will offer the capability to sense changes in their surrounding area by repurposing the received signal. This will enable the network to infer information about both device location and the surrounding environment with the existing radio interface operating as a radar receiver. As the sensing resolution is proportional to the signal wavelength, new sub-THz frequencies can provide much better performance than today´s available spectrum. 

In real terms, this means that the network will be able to interact with connected objects, such as vehicles, wearables, and surrounding infrastructure, but also be aware of unconnected and inanimate objects that are not immediately visible to the human eyes, such as pedestrians, trees, and buildings hidden around the corner. 

Today, Ericsson Antenna System contributes to the KOMSENS-6G project by developing novel antenna systems that enable joint communications and sensing in an efficient manner. Our work is based on specific requirements from key German industries and aims to support the integration of sensor technology into 6G networks. 

You can read more about our ongoing work in this area in this year’s CTO Technology Trends – Trend 1: technologies that enable a cyber-physical world.  

Learn more about the KOMSENS 6G project where, together with industry partners, we are exploring the potential of future perceptive communication networks with integrated sensor technology.

The road to universal cellular coverage that merges ground, air and satellite connectivity  

Ubiquitous, global cellular coverage is a key design concept that is driving 6G development.  

Today’s typical terrestrial mobile networks are like flat discs connecting everything on the ground. However, to deliver true cellular ubiquity, which includes connecting unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), our antennas will have to start looking to the sky.  

Our research efforts focus on the concept of multiple layer connectivity throughout the atmosphere. This essentially means that future networks will enable users to transition seamlessly from a ground cell to an air cell, to a satellite cell – in the same way we are today doing it on the ground.  

Achieving this vision will require a new network architectural approach that is optimized for air-ground-air performance. This includes new antenna concepts for terrestrial base stations that can better serve airborne use cases, like those envisioned in digital airspace scenarios. All this needs to be enabled in co-existence with existing solutions such as satellites and radio altimeters. 

Connecting today’s connectivity gaps, such as aerial UAV corridors both in the skies and out at sea, could open transformational shifts across society and business, for example enabling scale for airborne delivery services for consumers or for those in need of urgent medical care. Such applications also present a strong case for integrated joint communication and sensing capabilities, enhancing both the safety and efficiency of autonomous airborne applications. 

Even the data gathered through drone operations alone can significantly improve the efficiency of various applications from irrigation or fertilization in agriculture, to infrastructure maintenance and inspections. This will have a profound impact on enterprises, the economy, and our daily lives.  

Through the 6G Sky research project we are taking foundational steps in realizing that 2030 reality. The project is a collaborative effort between academia and industry, aimed at developing a flexible and adaptive network architecture for reliable and robust connectivity of aerial and ground users. Multiple technologies are considered, such as direct air-to-ground and satellite communication to provide robust, low latency, and high-capacity connections to rural areas via non-terrestrial networks. Ericsson Antenna System is contributing to the development of novel antenna concepts for the ground base station that will serve flying users. The project also focuses on novel wireless network designs and management schemes in 3D space, including different types of flying vehicles with unique requirements. 

Read more about how Ericsson Massive MIMO is bringing 5G mission-critical air-ground-air connectivity to the skies above Sweden today.

R&D at Ericsson Antenna System  

Here at Ericsson Antenna System, our commitment to R&D underpins not only our vision for networks beyond 2030, but also ensures continuous improvements to our market-leading passive and active antenna portfolio. 

Today, we have more than 500 engineers and researchers across our R&D centers in Rosenheim, Germany and Plano, US that are committed to developing this vision. This strong R&D foundation is backed by our production facilities both in Mexico and Romania. 

From first generation to tomorrow’s 5G Advanced networks, our experts have been central to raising performance benchmarks, enabling higher gain, reduced PIM, lower wind load and great network energy savings.  

With this expertise and together with our established ecosystem across global research partners, we are in a strong position to meet the needs of our customers and wider society in this coming decade and beyond. 


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