ETSI's new 6G report dives into THz use cases

The 6G use cases listed in ETSI's document include wireless data centers, mission critical XR and simultaneous imaging, mapping, and localization. Each one includes a detailed description and how it might work.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies

April 5, 2024

4 Min Read
Image of someone holding a touch screen device with graphics on a screen. 6G in the center circle with smaller circles connecting.
(Source: Kirill Ivanov/Alamy Stock Photo)

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) released a pair of new reports designed to shed light on how 6G technology might develop and what it will do. Importantly, the reports dive into more than a dozen 6G use cases – from remote surgery to real-time industrial control – as well as the terahertz spectrum bands where that might happen.

ETSI said the reports are the first from its new Terahertz Industry Specification Group (ISG THz).

"The role of ETSI ISG THz is to develop an environment where various actors from the academia, research centres, industry can share, in a consensus-driven way, their pre-standardization efforts on THz technology resulting from various collaborative research projects and global initiatives, paving the way towards future standardization," the organization wrote in a release.

ETSI is a broad standards organization that covers a variety of information and communication technologies (ICT), ranging from radio broadcasting to data communication and security. It works alongside the 3GPP, which focuses specifically on technical specifications for cellular networking technologies, including radio access and core network.

The 3GPP releases its standards in batches, and this year it's expected to finalize its Release 18 collection of specifications for 5G Advanced systems. Release 20 is expected to contain the group's first 6G specification, putting commercial 6G networks in the 2030 timeframe.

But what will 6G in the terahertz spectrum bands enable? Plenty, according to ETSI's new report. "The concept of remote surgery with support of THz communications comes with the promise of allowing people to be treated at anytime and anywhere, so that medical interventions could be done through the use of medical robots remotely controlled by a surgeon (away from the physical location where the actual surgery is performed)," according to the organization's report.

Remote surgery was also a use case for early 5G proponents, and the concept has turned into an inside joke among global wireless industry executives skeptical of such ambitious applications.

"It's a bit of a shame that the first use-case listed is the ultra-cringey & cliched remote surgery (didn't #5G do that?)" Disruptive Wireless analyst Dean Bubley wrote in a LinkedIn post. "There's some more sensible ones later in the document about FWA, high-density indoor use, cooperative robots and so on."

Indeed, other use cases listed in ETSI's document include wireless data centres, mission critical XR and simultaneous imaging, mapping, and localization. Each one includes a detailed description, how it might work and what enabling technologies it might need.

Here's the full list of 6G use cases in the ETSI document:

  • remote surgery

  • in-airplane or train cabin entertainment

  • cooperative mobile robots

  • hazardous material work

  • remote education

  • fixed point to point wireless applications

  • mobile wireless X-haul transport

  • wireless data centres

  • interactive immersive XR

  • mission critical XR

  • real-time industrial control

  • simultaneous imaging, mapping, and localization

  • commissioning of industrial plants

  • grand events with ultra-high throughput

  • ultra-high throughput for indoor users

  • intra-device communications

  • local area collaboration for fixed or low mobility applications

  • local area collaboration for vehicular applications

  • predictive maintenance and diagnostics

The 75-page report also offers a lengthy look at the kinds of technologies that might be involved in operating 6G networks, including AI, advanced MIMO, Reflective Intelligent Surfaces (RIS) and edge computing.

Second report

A second ETSI report looks at spectrum between 100GHz and 10THz. "Between 100 GHz and 275 GHz, 8 bands with sufficient contiguous bandwidths are allocated to fixed and mobile services on a co-primary basis," according to the report. "Above 275 GHz, interesting bands have been identified for THz communications purposes based on a combination of regulatory status and favourable propagation conditions."

To be clear, most 5G vendors don't expect 6G to run primarily in those terahertz spectrum bands. Companies like Ericsson and Nokia have said 6G will mainly run in the so-called "centimetric" spectrum bands that sit between 7GHz and 20GHz.

That's not a surprise. Some early 5G operators sought to deploy systems in the so-called "millimeter wave" bands around 20GHz-30GHz. However, signals in such bands typically don't travel very far, and generally cannot pass through walls or other objects.

Thus, the ETSI report is likely intended for short-range 6G communications and not standard cellular networks built atop big outdoor cell towers.

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About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

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