6G networks are expected to provide more diverse capabilities than their predecessors and to support applications other than current mobile applications, such as virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR), artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT) (IoT). It is also expected that mobile network operators will use flexible, decentralized 6G models, including local spectrum licensing, spectrum sharing, and infrastructure sharing.
An international team of researchers has developed 6G components that will enable future devices to achieve the increased speeds required for such a technological leap.
Researchers around the world are already laying the groundwork for the next generation of wireless communications, 6G, even though consumers won’t see it for years. An international team led by University of Texas at Austin researchers has developed components that will allow future devices to achieve the increased speeds required for such a technological leap.
The researchers demonstrated new radio frequency switches in a new paper published in Nature Electronics that are responsible for keeping devices connected by jumping between networks and frequencies while receiving data. In contrast to the switches found in most electronics today, these new devices are made of two-dimensional materials that require significantly less energy to operate, resulting in increased device speed and battery life.
A lot of the components, a lot of the architecture need to be resolved years in advance so that system-level integration and execution can happen in time for the rollout.Deji Akinwande
“Anything that is battery-powered and needs to access the cloud or the 5G and eventually 6G network, these switches can provide those low-energy, high-speed functions,” said Deji Akinwande, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Cockrell School of Engineering and the project’s principal leader.
Because of the increased demand for speed and power, 6G devices will almost certainly contain hundreds of switches, far more than current electronics. To achieve higher speeds, 6G devices will need to access higher frequency spectrum bands than today’s electronics, and these switches will be critical in doing so.
Making these switches and other components more efficient is another critical component of cracking the 6G code. This efficiency extends beyond the lifespan of the battery. Because the potential applications for 6G are so diverse, including driverless cars and smart cities, every device will need to be virtually latency-free.
Akinwande has previously worked on switches for 5G devices. The materials used this time are one of the most noticeable differences. Molybdenum disulfide, also known as MOS2, is stuck between two electrodes in these new switches. These devices, known as memristors, are typically used for memory. However, the adaptation to use these as switches opens the door for current and future devices to achieve new levels of speed and battery life.
Akinwande is part of a group of researchers at UT Austin preparing for 6G. Last year, 6G@UT launched, with industry leaders including Samsung, AT&T, NVIDIA, Qualcomm and more partnering with researchers to advance 6G development.
The next generation of wireless will be infused with technologies that have come of age during the past decade: ubiquitous sensing, augmented reality, machine learning and the ability to use higher frequency spectrum at mmWave and THz bands. These technologies will be at the heart of the research happening at the 6G@UT center.
Each wireless generation lasts roughly a decade, with the 5G rollout beginning in 2020. According to Akinwande, 6G deployment is unlikely to occur until around 2030. But now is the time to put all of the necessary building blocks in place.
“A lot of the components, a lot of the architecture need to be resolved years in advance so that system-level integration and execution can happen in time for the rollout,” Akinwande explained.
The next step in this project is to integrate the switches with silicon chips and circuits. The researchers are working on improving the switches’ ability to jump between frequencies, which would allow devices to make better connections on the fly. They are pursuing collaborations with industry partners to develop the switches for commercial use.