Industry majors team for 6G research
July 8, 2021
By Colin Mann
Teaming up with industry majors including Samsung, NVIDIA and more, researchers at The University of Texas are launching 6G@UT, a new research centre to lay the groundwork for 6G, the next generation of wireless technology.
5G is just emerging as the dominant cellular technology after years of research and innovation that includes important contributions by UT Austin wireless researchers and alumni. With new technologies on the horizon such as self-driving cars and air taxis, holographic video conferencing, ubiquitous robotics and immersive augmented reality, UT Austin is cementing its leadership in wireless innovation with this major research effort on 6G.
“The advances in both wireless communications and machine learning over the past decade have been incredible, but separate,” said 6G@UT Director Jeffrey Andrews, a professor in UT Austin’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “Coupled with vast new sensing and localisation abilities, 6G will be defined by an unprecedented native intelligence, which will transform the ability of the network to provide incredible services.”
Founding 6G@UT affiliates Samsung, AT&T, NVIDIA, Qualcomm and InterDigital will each fund at least two projects for three years at the centre. Researchers from the companies will work alongside UT faculty members and students to develop wireless-specific machine learning algorithms, advanced sensing technologies, and core networking innovations that will be the backbone of 6G.
The next generation of wireless will be infused with technologies that have come of age during the past decade: ubiquitous sensing, 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 centre, and they will play a critical role not only in the devices and applications running 6G but in managing the network itself.
Radio waves not only facilitate communication, but also sensing and localisation, via radar and GPS, for example. The introduction of THz bands and the superior sensing resolution through massively dense antenna arrays will allow carriers to better monitor the quality of their networks in different places — from office towers to busy downtown areas to far-flung rural locales. 6G networks will be loaded with radar, vision, audio, lidar, thermal, seismic and broadband software-defined radio sensors that will provide unprecedented situational awareness to applications and devices running on the network.
“5G’s vision of sensing has been insufficiently bold,” said Todd Humphreys, associate professor in UT Austin’s Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. “6G should begin with the premise that sensing is not just for reacting to conditions, but anticipating them, so that vital links to automated vehicles, AR/VR headsets, and other latency-sensitive applications can be maintained with utter reliability.”
Other major pillars of the new centre, and crucial parts of 6G, include the need to open new spectrum and low Earth orbit satellite links to improve coverage across rural and urban areas and design new network architectures to enable better resource and infrastructure sharing.
The 6G@UT centre is spun out of the Cockrell School’s Wireless Networking & Communications Group, a 19-year-old research centre with more than 25 faculty members and 130 students and researchers. WNCG has established UT Austin as a global leader in wireless technology, and its researchers have made important breakthroughs that helped enable 4G and 5G technology. Students graduating from UT Austin have played important roles in creating and standardising these technologies at WNCG’s industrial affiliates.