Science & Tech

What will 6G look like? Image: Pexels

RESEARCHERS HOPE TO ONE DAY DEVELOP SMART FACTORIES, HOLOGRAPHIC COMMUNICATIONS, AND THE INTERNET OF SENSES

In 2020, Rogers, Telus, Videotron, and Bell became providers for 5G network technology in Canada, and six other Canadian carriers will provide this technology within the next two years.  

5G technology is designed to deliver fast telecommunications connections. While this technology was launched in 2020, engineers from the University of Ottawa (U of O) have already started to think about 6G telecommunications technology. 

Engineering professor, Melike Erol-Kantarci, who is also the Canada Research Chair in AI-Enabled Next-Generation Wireless Networks, is a leader in 6G technology. 

“Wireless communications systems are getting more and more complicated. So much so that they are becoming out of human reach and interpretation,” said Erol-Kantarci. 

This is where artificial intelligence (AI) comes into the equation.

Erol-Kantarci said AI is an important component of 6G technology because it makes-up for what engineers cannot accomplish. This is what makes newer telecommunications systems more efficient. 

“We have so much equipment, so much hardware and software components that are trying to work together. So, there has to be a decision-making algorithm that can make autonomous decisions [without the need for human intervention].” 

While 6G technology is in an early stage of development, it is expected to eventually replace 5G technology in approximately 10 years.

In this early development stage, Erol-Kantarci explained that researchers try to decide what other applications 6G technology could perform. The key is to think ‘futuristically’ and predict what consumer needs will be in the future.

“For example, when 5G development first began 10 years ago, the idea was to reach one millisecond latency,” said Erol-Kantarci. 

Latency is a telecommunications technology’s lag-time between when the user commands a task and when the command is executed by that technology.  

Currently, 5G is not yet able to reach one millisecond latency so, “the new goal is for 6G to reach 1 millisecond latency.”

Beyond the question of latency, with 6G technology, the future could see “smart factories, holographic communications, and the internet of senses (which allows a user to experience four senses through airwaves, these include sight, sound, smell, and touch).”

Medhat Elsayed, a U of O PhD student who works with Erol-Kantarci said “6G could also potentially be used to create extended realities.” 

An extended reality melds a virtual world with real life. In the scope of an extended reality, digital items and physical objects can exist in the same space. 

“Imagine visiting a store virtually to touch fabric or … imagine smelling a perfume before you buy it online,” explained Erol-Kantarci. 

“Another example could be smart homes and anything that has to do with sensors that communicate with each other,” added Elsayed.

The perks of this advanced technology according to Erol-Kantarci, is a need for extended realities — especially for people who require medical attention but cannot visit a health centre. 

This technology could help “populations who struggle with disabilities […] or who live in remote communities [and have trouble] accessing health care.” 

Theoretically, this could allow healthcare workers to conduct virtual consultations and operations for people who are unable to go to a doctor’s office or hospital. 

Still, lots of research is needed to push beyond the current limits of technology and get the most out of the future inventions.

“Our predictions might not make sense 10 years from now, [but] we have to do this exercise,” said Erol-Kantarci.