Check your six, Five: Russian companies demonstrate 6G hardware

Russia hasn’t officially launched 5G yet, but the engineers are already looking into what’s next — 6G, releasing a device that will assist in designing the sixth generation of wireless networks. The device originates from the Competency Center for Wireless Communication Technology and the Internet of Things of the National Technological Initiative based at Skoltech.

What is 6G?

Let’s refresh our memory first about why we need the fifth generation. 5G can enable IoT, self-driving cars, new and more immersive gaming experience, as well as the general improvement of user experience, like faster download speeds. Compared to LTE, 5G offers better throughput rates, promising very low latencies even in the middle of a huge crowd, like a rock concert or a football match.

6G promises speeds at least 400 times faster than that. There aren’t many frequencies left that would be both available and safe for humans, so the new standards will occupy the space between 100 GHz and 3 THz. The so-called sub-millimeter band offers colossal data speeds at no latency, opening the door for mobile artificial intelligence applications.

For example, all construction will happen without any human involvement, for all the machines will be controlled by computers, real-time. AI will also manage deliveries, telling drones when and where to go.

And this isn’t all. Experts expect 6G to merge industrial and residential IoT networks into one; one network to drive home appliances, cars, trains, planes, and space crafts. Imagine your favorite movies loading seamlessly and automatically on a plane’s onboard entertainment system. Today, it’s a dream that will take much time to bring to reality. However, the hardware is already here.

A new element to receive and transmit signals

New frequency bands always present challenger for engineers when suitable new equipment simply doesn’t exist. NTI’s Competency Center for Wireless Communication Technology and the Internet of Things have performed theoretical calculations and developed technical approaches to designing integrated semiconductor optical circuitry and radiophotonics. A crucial component has been developed based on that circuitry — a high-frequency electro-optical modulator that converts HF electric signals to the optical spectrum.

Such devices present massive interest for the telecommunications industry, reason the designers. The high-frequency modulation required for 6G comes in a small package, only 0.6 mm x 0.6 mm with the bonding pad. The developers plan on expanding the supported frequency range into hundreds of GHz and expand the product range.

The device will become an essential element in producing planar radiophotonic and optoelectronic transceivers for the fiber segments of 6G networks. Without such transceivers, a network is simply impossible.

Engineers are yet to develop 6G transceivers, but a small step towards that goal has been made.

«The developed technology will most likely become the foundation for the 6G photonics and radiophotonics, explains Dmitry Lakontsev, head of NTI’s Competency Center for Wireless Communication Technology and Internet of Things. We are talking about our ability to manufacture key circuitry for the sixth generation networks here in Russia. Previously, such a level of participation in creating a new technology was unattainable.»

Too early for 6G?

Experts agree that the timeframe for 6G launches will be 2025-2030. Based on the 5G experience, Russia may expect a different schedule. Regardless, it’s never too early for technology. «6G research has been going on for some time, explains Dmitry Lakontsev. Such programs have begun even before commercial roll-outs of first 5G networks.»

Back in Spring, Skoltech had developed and sent to the Ministry of Industry and Trade a project for developing 6G technology in Russia. The paper states that 6G research is a matter of national independence in technology and information, and the security of building and operating critically important telecom infrastructure.

«There’s no denying that, especially considering the process of deglobalization that has been going on lately, explains Lakontsev. For instance, the US has recently barred China from accessing its advanced photolithographic technology. It looks like in the future, no one will be in a rush to share their advanced designs with their neighbors. Thus, a national 6G project is a matter of technological survival.»

Russia effectively does not have its own telecom vendors, so there is currently no way to form a full production cycle of 6G hardware. «Countries need to concentrate on manufacturing components that are most likely to become subject to the risk of sanctions, Lakontsev suggests. Thanks to such research, we have a good chance to localize backhaul and terminal 6G equipment production. Moreover, such technological breakthroughs put Russia on the same level as the leading countries and organizations that are already researching this sphere and create a foundation for economic cooperation.»

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