Intel: “There is widespread consensus that commercialisation of the 6G network will be possible by 2030”

We interviewed Dario Sabella, Senior Manager Standards and Research at Intel, to learn about the early stages in the development of 6G standards, where cloud computing and artificial intelligence will play a relevant role.

The fifth generation of mobile communications is not yet fully deployed and adopted, but regulators and major manufacturers in the telecoms industry are already working on the future 6G.

It is a process that will take years, but we already know some of the features it will offer, as previewed in this interview with Dario Sabella, Senior Manager Standards and Research at Intel.

Sabella focuses on Intel’s approach to 6G technology in light of the fact that the systems of the future will have to support newer and more stringent KPIs, differentiated services, larger, more complex and agile networks, and higher degrees of automation. And that will mean that to meet these challenges, 6G technology will have to go beyond the traditional communications-centric point of view.

Cloud-native computing capabilities and artificial intelligence algorithms will be of particular relevance and importance in the development of this technology, as Intel’s spokesperson explains:

-What is the roadmap for the sixth generation of mobile communications, and when will it be commercially available?

The 6G network roadmap started with R&D projects and we are now in the phase of initiating standardisation. While Release 18 of the 3GPP standard is scheduled to be completed by the first quarter of 2024, 3GPP’s current plan is to define the specifications for Release 19 (or Rel.19), as well as the priorities of related topics. Thus, while Rel.19 will provide the 6G requirements, and Rel. 20 will conduct 6G studies, a consolidated set of 6G specifications can be considered for Rel.21, which would be finalised in 2028.

This means that there is widespread consensus that commercialisation of the 6G network will be possible by 2030.

– What will be the first features we will see in 6G networks in terms of response time, capacity and data rate, and what improvements will we see in 6G compared to 5G?

Since the Rel-19 package will be defined in December 2023, it is still too early to point out what will be the first features we will see in 6G networks, as the prioritisation of topics is yet to be decided.

However, the minimum technical performance requirement for 5G includes maximum speeds of 20Gbps on the downlink and 10Gbps on the uplink, with the target user experiencing data rates of 100Mbps on the downlink and 50Mbps on the uplink. In addition, in some cases latency should be less than 1ms, to allow for extremely critical use cases. The ITU will define between 2024 and 2027 the relevant requirements and evaluation criteria for potential radio interface technologies for IMT-2030 (also known as “6G”). Future systems are expected to offer both enhanced capabilities, which will be related to existing metrics such as latency and peak data rate, and to add new capabilities such as those related to sensing, positioning and AI. Other metrics are also important for 6G, such as reliability and availability, to address the needs of vertical market segments.

Therefore, apart from new frequencies and radio technologies, I would like to highlight that new services can be supported thanks to key innovations also in the core and at the edge, which will lead to an AI-native and cloud-native 6G architecture.

– What challenges do we face in enabling 6G to meet the needs of organisations and end-users?

One of the main challenges is the cost associated with the deployment and operation of mobile networks. Competition in this area is fierce and operators are questioning how affordable and sustainable the evolution to 6G systems will be. Also, a requirement for all is energy efficiency, at all levels, which has an impact on OPEX.

– How important will environmental sustainability and energy consumption be in your development?

This is already a major concern for stakeholders, as the energy bill of mobile operators is already quite high. The incredible growth in traffic demand is even amplifying the problem, as future system developments should take sustainability into account as a key design requirement.

This is not to claim that 6G can radically contribute to environmental sustainability in all business sectors (e.g. manufacturing, which is by nature energy intensive), but at least there are areas where 6G communications can substantially help save energy by supporting more energy-efficient services.

– To what extent will Artificial Intelligence influence the development of 6G, and which 6G + AI integrations will have the most impact?

Today, AI is ubiquitous in today’s communications networks, e.g. for network optimisation, operation and maintenance. In the future, this phenomenon will become even more pronounced, as many AI-driven innovations are emerging in the new design paradigms of future 6G systems. From radio technology to optimisation engines and AI agents that apply quality of service predictions, or AI/ML algorithms for radio resource management to optimise coverage and system capacity, among others.

– What role is Intel going to play in the development of 6G, what is your vision and what are the key elements that you are betting on?

Intel’s vision is based on the future convergence of communication and computing systems. The cloud-native system establishes a platform foundation to integrate communication, compute and data services in a 6G wide-area cloud and support native AI workloads.

Therefore, the 6G system will go beyond communication services and deliver the next generation experience of the digital world. In this perspective, MEC (Multi-access Edge Computing) is also among the key technologies that will support cloud-native 6G systems, with relevant standardisation in the fields of multi-domain and multitenancy federation and fragmentation, cybersecurity at the edge, and support for edge-native design for application developers.