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6G straight from the Ericsson labs

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There were many questions for our experts who worked on the 6G demos in the “6G – straight from our labs” area at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2024. Among the most commonly-asked questions were:“Is it not too early to talk 6G?”, “What is new for 6G?”, “How does 6G relate to 5G?” and all sorts of questions on spectrum – new, existing, co-existing, reuse, coverage and more. So, let’s take the questions one-by-one… This blog will show how we take steps towards addressing some of these questions by describing what was on display at MWC 2024.

6G Portfolio Strategy, Business Area Networks

Strategic Research Communication Director


6G Portfolio Strategy, Business Area Networks

Strategic Research Communication Director

6G Portfolio Strategy, Business Area Networks

Contributor (+1)

Strategic Research Communication Director

Is it too early to talk 6G?

Today, the adoption of  5G networks continues to grow. There are 302 live 5G networks globally and 47 live 5G standalone (SA) networks according to the Global Mobile Suppliers Association but there are many years of evolution and rollout remaining for 5G so why talk about 6G today?

The answer is exploration and preparation.

Why 6G matters in 2024

Johan Lundsjö, Strategic Research Director at Ericsson Research, outlines the ongoing process and upcoming milestones, underlining the need for brave innovators.

As an industry, we need to prepare for and align on what is it that we should define in the 6G standardization work that will start after summer 2024.

In addition, we need to prepare for building a 6G ecosystem that will be ready for the first deployments in 2030.

Since we expect the first commercial 6G networks to be available in 2030, we need to answer many questions over the next few years. What are the new concepts we should enable via new 6G Radio Access Technology (RAT)? What can we or should we reuse from 5G? What do we expect the networks of 2030..2040 will need to support? What are the changes needed in order to address the needs of the future? What changes are needed to improve on what we have in today’s mobile networks?

What is new for 6G?

6G will build on 5G Standalone and 5G-Advanced, evolving from today’s network towards the needs of 2030 and beyond. In other words, 6G will be a mix of both new and evolved concepts and use cases.

A selection of new concepts was on display straight from our 6G labs on the MWC floor.

Ultra-Low Power AI

This concept addresses two major areas of interest - AI and Energy Efficiency - topics that might seem mutually exclusive! There is rapid growth both in interest and usage of AI in mobile network operations, solutions and applications. There’s a risk that the massive amounts of data processing demanded in many AI scenarios lead to high power consumption in parallel. With increased usage of AI expected in the networks, it is important to have solutions to address this.

This live prototype for ultra-low power AI used a novel neuromorphic-AI-based approach for radio channel estimation and showcased the feasibility of low-compute and low-energy AI using AI-based radio receiver use-cases. The trick here is that in a neuromorphic neural network (like our human brain) only the neurons detecting a change are active, whereas no computations are needed for neurons in remember state. The fraction of inactive neurons translates directly to an energy efficiency gain as compared to a traditional deep neural network where computations are always needed for all neurons.  The live demo showed how neural activity in the channel estimation computations varied with changes in the radio channel and how energy consumption could be reduced when less or no computations were ongoing. Radio channel estimation is only one of many areas where this exciting AI technology can be used. Keep an eye out for upcoming blogs on this topic from Ericsson soon!

Ultra-Low Power AI

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Further leveraging the value of network capabilities

Another topic very high on the agenda at MWC was the exposure of easily accessible and monetizable capabilities from the network to application developers and users. Read Ericsson CEO's blog: This is how we can capture the full value of 5G.

Monetization of 5G was widely displayed at the Ericsson booth with demos on differentiated connectivity, network application programming interfaces (APIs), programmable networks, and more.

Continuing the journey beyond 5G into 6G, we can further enhance network capabilities that can be exposed and offered to developers of course, and also introduce new capabilities. 6G can become a platform that expands beyond communication and offers additional monetizable services, for example, in the spatial locating domain and the compute domain.

Dynamic compute offload for advanced mobile use cases

This live demo showcased one example of such a potential future service. As a concrete example, a use case for mixed reality (MR) communication with avatars was shown. We demonstrated how computationally heavy tasks, such as object detection, can be dynamically offloaded from a lightweight and portable head-mounted device to a compute site in the network. The service can be triggered by different parameters, for example device battery level, device temperature or radio link performance metrics, which determine when to dynamically offload a compute function from the headset to the network. Offloading can result in a smoother application experience due to the superior compute capacity at the remote site. Equally or even more important, offloading results in advantages related to device behavior, like reduced battery consumption or heat generation, thereby enabling slimmer devices as well as more efficient and effective MR experiences. Such a service would consume data via network APIs for intelligent triggering of computational offloading. On top of that, it could be offered as a network service bundled with differentiated connectivity and exposed via simple APIs, bringing additional value to the device and application ecosystem by ensuring optimal device and application performance, adapting to the current situation of a nomadic application such as the MR avatar example.

The demo let the visitors experience a live mixed reality two-party call. Example of the mimicked use case.

Dynamic compute offload for advanced mobile use cases

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Dynamic compute offload for advanced mobile use cases

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For more on this topic, read the blog post Opportunities with dynamic device offloading as a 6G service.

The above demos are just two examples of the many new and exciting concepts Ericsson is exploring for 6G and networks of the future. There are many more being worked on, some of which we hope to be able to showcase in the not-too-distant future.

How does 6G relate to 5G?

What can we reuse, leverage, and evolve from 5G?

At MWC, numerous demos highlighted what is expected in the 5G Advanced space over the next few years. In addition to radio hardware showcasing openness readiness and massive arrays, a visitor could experience proof-points for RAN energy performance, superior uplink with carrier aggregation, RedCap for new types of 5G devices and applications, radio performance in 6GHz spectrum, indoor positioning and demos on Differentiated Connectivity and Monetization of 5G. Read the blog: Ericsson CMO Stella Medlicott talks AI, APIs at MWC 2024.

6G will build on 5G Standalone and 5G-Advanced, evolving open interfaces, delivering more precise positioning and spatial locating, operating in new centimeter wave spectrum, handling a broader range of devices and device types for new and evolved services and use cases, improving on spectrum utilization and coverage and taking a large step forward in energy performance with leaner design and even more optimized signaling.

Many parts of 6G will be an evolution from 5G – aspects that are being worked on now for 5G will be evolved, expanded and improved in 6G based on learnings and experiences in 5G and enabled by changes in the 3GPP specifications defining the new 6G RAT.

Precise indoor positioning

One example of a concept evolving from 5G is positioning - a hot topic in 5G. The demo used a network-centric 5G precise indoor positioning solution based on the Ericsson Radio Dot System, RAN compute and Ericsson Network Location platform. A tracking usecase was demonstrated where network estimated location of an automated guided vehicle (AGV)-like robot device with an accuracy of sub-meter in near real-time environment. This Ericsson 5G precise indoor solution works for any 5G device without any need for sensors or special functionality to be enabled on the device side. Furthermore, the estimated location in the network is exposed to applications using standard APIs enabling third party integrators and application developers to utilize precise device location to enhance their applications.

Precise indoor positioning

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Precise indoor positioning

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The ambition for 6G is to evolve the solutions so that more accurate spatial locating can be supported both indoors and outdoors and this capability is expected to be part of the future network API exposure options for application developers.

Another area of evolution will certainly be in the use case dimension. One such example would be the scaling up the type of XR services that are being offered in 5G Advanced. This is a growing area with more device capabilities, new applications and network enablers continuously under exploration.

Check out Immersive technology: The future of entertainment - Ericsson.

In 6G, the vision is to enable massive immersive communication. This would demand wider area support for guaranteed performance in latency, more uplink and/or downlink capacity, spatial locating and in parallel an evolution of both device technologies and other technologies such as the object detection showcased in the dynamic compute offload for MR highlighted earlier in this blog.

Another important area of evolution is the network architecture. This topic, although not highlighted in a specific demo at MWC, is crucial for smooth introduction of 6G and the ability to leverage the key capabilities of the network as early as possible. For more information on the key principles for a 6G network architecture, see: 6G network architecture – a proposal for early alignment - Ericsson.

All things spectrum

Spectrum was a hot topic at MWC24 and is for 6G in general. Spectrum is a very valuable asset and all existing spectrum utilized for 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G today should be possible to be reused for 6G. In the case of spectrum used by 5G, for a smooth introduction of 6G and an efficient migration from 5G SA, spectrum sharing between 5G and 6G will be critical. In addition, there is a global discussion on what ‘new’ spectrum might be allocated for IMT before 6G is deployed. The main focus is on the cmWave (centimeter wave) spectrum between 7-15GHz. No spectrum allocations have yet been made and there are many discussions to be had on how to co-exist with incumbents, but in the meantime, our 6G testbed is exploring cmWave and the performance that can be achieved in terms of coverage and indoor penetration.

6G cmWave performance

This MWC demo used a highly accurate digital model of Dubai, thelocation for the recent World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23), to show how the coverage compares between 3.5GHz, 7GHz, and 14GHz. The basic conclusion is that 7-8GHz is very interesting spectrum that can come quite close to matching the DL coverage of 3.5GHz. This means that re-use of the existing grid becomes a more likely possibility and this needs to be further explored.

Coverage for 3.5 GHz downlink with good indoor penetration

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Coverage for 7 GHz downlink – quite close to 3.5GHz

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Coverage visualizations from our ray tracing radio propagation simulator

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Note: Early studies indicate 90% capacity increase in a ‘typical’ US urban MBB macro network with ISD of 700m, when large antenna array radios for 7-8GHz added

6G centimeterWave testbed

This showcased a prototype cmWave “radio” (mainly focused on a digital frontend) connected to a cmWave baseband. The prototype radio board was connected live to the baseband compute via a cable and the focus was to explore how to partition compute between baseband and radio via various lower layer splits. In the future, the 6G testbed will evolve to explore radio performance in the 7-15GHz spectrum and test out new concepts for the 6G RAT.

A demonstration of the suppression of adjacent channels was included onscreen as well as a live view of the throughput running through the digital front-ends of both the radio and baseband. 

Future steps will include performing drive tests to better understand these new frequencies and experimentation on the performance of other new and evolved 6G concepts in the testbed.

6G centimeterWave testbed

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6G test device

The 6G ‘test device’ was also on display – not optimized for commercial usage yet – it is a bit unwieldy!

One of several important reasons that collaboration across the industry and ecosystem is key to building a great 6G is to get alignment on what is needed in order to enable commercial devices suitable for use for both consumers and enterprises.

We in Ericsson firmly believe that more spectrum is required for the networks of 2030 and beyond. Read more about this here: 6G spectrum - future mobile life beyond 2030 - Ericsson.

Some interesting discussions on spectrum also took place in the GSMA panel “How much spectrum is needed for the 6G era?”. There is a general view that it is very important to be able to reuse existing spectrum assets and optimize the utilization of those assets when it comes to 6G. In addition, more spectrum will be needed for 6G. Exact needs can vary from region to region, pending market demand and  timing of both 6G deployments which may trigger massive immersive communication and the availability of mass market, wide area capable XR-type devices and applications.

And finally…

When the dust settled after MWC 2024, in Hall 2 at the Ericsson booth, 153 screens were packed up, 1km of rigging was dismantled and the crew are now back at their home locations having walked 15,570 km in the lead up and during the event (yes, those are real numbers!)Now we are back at base, in the labs, testing, evolving, innovating and spending some time reflecting on the comments, questions, feedback from the 6G demos and discussions in Barcelona.

Thanks to all the experts who were at MWC driving the demos discussed in this blog: Anders Carlblom, Thomas Magnusson, Eric Nordström Pettigrew, Héctor Caltenco, Leire Amenabar, Wolfgang John, Péter Hága, Máté Szebenyei, Partha Sarathy Konakanchi and Per-Gunnar Andersson.

MWC 2024

Thanks to all of the hard-working people ‘behind the scenes’ both in Barcelona and in our labs and offices. Many, many hours of hard work, dedication and innovation were involved to create and deliver the demos and concepts on display at MWC 2024.

And thanks for all the coffees – over 16,500 coffees were consumed in the Ericsson booth in four days … the demand for some things remains the same, regardless of the ‘G’!

Learn more

6G standardization timeline and principles

With 6G, let's connect a cyber-physical world

CM-wave spectrum: 6G’s potent enabler

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