NGMN brings together US and Chinese operators for 6G

The Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance (NGMN) was founded in 2006 with the objective of ensuring that "functionality and performance of next-generation mobile network infrastructure, service platforms and devices will meet the requirements of operators and, ultimately, will satisfy end user demand and expectations."

Members include the likes of T-Mobile, Bell, SK Telecom, Telia and Vodafone.

The group initially worked on 4G technologies until 2015, when it released a white paper that outlined operator desires for 5G. The effort represented an attempt by the group to help guide the 3GPP's development of the 5G standard.

On Monday, the group released its first white paper on 6G. Importantly, the lead authors of the report were Quan Zhao of China Mobile, Narothum Saxena of UScellular and David Lister of Vodafone.

The pairing of executives from operators based in the US (UScellular) and China (China Mobile) is noteworthy given widespread worries that the 6G standard will ultimately fracture between US and Chinese allies due to geopolitical tensions between the two global superpowers.

That's not what the NGMN wants.

"We strongly believe that we have to at least strive and aim for a global standard, which allows for all types of competition," Anita Doehler, NGMN's CEO, told Light Reading.

Other NGMN members agreed. "I think it's important to have a healthy, global ecosystem," Javan Erfanian from Bell Canada told Light Reading. "Fragmentation is not forward-looking or sustainable."

The release of the NGMN's paper comes amid international 6G saber-rattling. For example, Europe's Hexa-X project involves Ericsson, Nokia and Orange, among others, while North America's Next G Alliance sports leadership from AT&T and Ericsson. China, meantime, is pushing a new five-year plan with 6G technologies as a top priority.

Despite all that noise, though, few executives have offered a clear view about what 6G might do, exactly.

"We certainly look forward to what 6G will be, but it may not be the case that 6G will come," said Eric Xu of China's Huawei recently. "Still, we have to prepare ourselves for the possible advance of 6G with the necessary investment."

"I really don't know what the hell 6G is," Verizon's Kyle Malady told Light Reading late last year.

NGMN's new white paper is similarly vague about 6G, mostly recommending further research. "The approach for 6G should be based on agile and fully flexible systems, with distributed intelligence including at the edge. 6G will thus be built upon the features and capabilities to be introduced with 5G, alongside novel capabilities, in order to deliver new services and value," it states.

But the group does lay out a few bullet points that operator members want to see from the G that follows 5G:

  • "Address societal and environmental needs, including well-being, prosperity, sustainability, trust, safety, affordability, resilience and inclusion."
  • "Introduce new human-machine interfaces that extend the user experience across multiple physical and virtual platforms, sensing, and immersive mixed realities for a variety of use cases, including the use of large bandwidths in existing and new spectrum bands."
  • "Advance enablement of seamless multi-access service continuity, using terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks, and provide coverage across land, sea, and sky, efficiently addressing any traffic and connection density."
  • "Advance and build from design the forward-looking capabilities introduced with 5G such as disaggregation and software-based agile, cognitive and autonomous networks, to ensure the introduction of new technology plug-ins in both the network and the user terminal/interaction mechanisms, that are market-driven, support innovation, and create new value opportunities."
  • "In support of AI by design, develop an energy and cost-efficient structure that is highly scalable, flexible, and portable, allowing abstraction and distribution of complexities, development of digital twin representation, and embedded intelligence. Identify appropriate AI-based frameworks, with the objective of supporting value creation and delivery, resource allocation optimization, and sustainable deployment and operation, among others."

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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