China Unicom Gets Cracking on 6G Terahertz

China Unicom has begun research on Terahertz communication, one of the core technologies for 6G.

The operator has set up a research group, the Millimeter Wave Terahertz Joint Innovation Center, in partnership with 20 other companies and research organizations.

The research partnership would build several demonstration projects and develop a dozen or more standards, according to Feng Yi, head of the China Unicom Network Research Institute 5G Innovation Center. He did not say who the research partners were.

"Terahertz communication is the key technology to realize 6G," Feng told a seminar on the topic in Beijing last week.

"The 6G vision includes deep integration with AI technology; peak rates that reach terabit speeds; new multiple access and coding technologies; integrated air-sea communication and multi-scale communication from macro scale to micro," he said.

Unicom's disclosures follow the formal launch by two government ministries of China's 6G program on November 3.

The Chinese aren't the only people working on 6G, but Unicom is the first operator to sketch out its plans.

It draws on industry views set out by Finland's University of Oulu in a white paper created following an industry conference earlier this year.

The paper said a priority would be achieving 1 Tbit/s per user throughput, most likely through efficient utilization of Terahertz spectrum.

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With the industry currently grappling with 5G millimeter wave at 26GHz and above, the leap to Terahertz is a big one.

Feng said one likely use for Terahertz-based 6G would be traditional connectivity. Its peak rate of 1 Tbit/s or above meant it could it deploy as a fiber substitute in areas where fixed-line access is uneconomical.

But he cited two use cases quite different from wireless as we know it.

One is inter-satellite or integrated air-space communication, taking advantage of the Terahertz wave's ability to transmit in outer space and to travel long distances at very low power.

"It might be deployed on platforms such as satellites, drones and airships, and act as a wireless relay device to realize air-ground integrated communication," he said.

Another is nano or micro-scale communication for IoT.

Using the extremely short Terahertz wavelength, the nano-scale Terahertz transceiver and antenna can be used for on-chip communication, wearable or other small devices to achieve high data speeds over a very short range.

He said some of the challenges in developing Terahertz tech included materials technology, chip integration and packaging, miniaturization, real-time and space division multiplexing and power consumption.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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