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6G and AI likely to go hand in hand

Communications requirements change over time, depending on what is being communicated and the parties involved, in other words the semantics of the message leads to different communications requirements. Today’s networks are (by far) neutral to what is being communicated, not so in the future. Image credit: Basak Guler, Penn State University

The digital transformation is shifting more and more value to the cyberspace (not because the cyberspace is -per sé- more valuable but because it is much more convenient to carry put business in the cyberspace, and as biz moves to the cyberspace this one gets more and more valuable). This, in turns, shifts more and more value on data.

We used to say, in telecommunications, that bits are bits, and the whole discussion on network neutrality is based on that tenet. Since bits are bits one should not favour a bit over another. On the other hand, Telecom Operators have been trying to sell the idea that some bits are more valuable than other, than they should be served in different ways as Telcos took care of transporting them. Of course, the driving idea was, and is, I, Telco, will provide you with a better service for your bits, hence you will pay more for that.

There are several issues related to the establishment of preferential channels to transport bits. One, of course, is the technical feasibility, another is the identification of the value of bits. This latter can be left to the end user, who, by demanding preferential service, implicitly states that those bits are more valuable (and may be willing to pay a higher transportation fee).

The allocation of specific resources to speed up the transport is expensive (as well as discovering -deep packet inspection- those streams that may benefit from better transport service) and it is not sure it will find a demand. That has been a reason why Telcos have had difficulties in delivering these services. An attempt is made as a new generation (wireless) network is deployed. You want to use that you pay more. It never worked (in terms of really bringing significant additional revenues) and I do not see why it should be working for 5G and the future Gs. Actually, as technology progresses in performance there is less and less motivation for the mass market to ask for more (of course more is nice, but not if I have to pay for it).

With 5G there is the possibility of handing out the session control to the terminal. An app on your phone may negotiate with the network the right mix of resources to ensure a smooth transport fitting the need of that particular session, possibly using  several gateways in parallel and changing the mix of resources during the session. All of this was not possible with the previous Gs (and it is not likely Telcos will be willing now to handover the session control to the edges…).

The point of “understanding” what are the (changing) needs of communications remains, actually, as services become more complex (read Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality -I would say less impactful than AR, logistic chain management, robots coordination in a factory, cooperative AR/VR…) the understanding becomes more and more complex, and most of the time will require an understanding of the past, of the present and of the future. In other words it will require Artificial Intelligence.

In parallel there will be the need for a much more flexible use of resources and of protocols, systems and architectures, supporting their visibility and management. Welcome to 6G (and its offspring).

This is discussed in a study carried out the the Jacob University in Bremen, Germany and presented in an article on MIT Technology Review.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise. AI is becoming pervasive and the surprise would be if it will not affect the telecommunication domain.

One interesting point highlighted in the article is that whilst all Gs up to 5G have been looking at the network in terms of transport, from 6G on they will be looking at the relations among agents (soft agents) in the cyberspace, at the kind of communication/collaboration that will be needed up there. A quite different perspective that is going to be played yes on the termination points as it is today but also, and more and more, at the interplay of clouds, both in the network and at the edges (clouds and fog). These will become the main users (in terms of requirements) of the future communications systems.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.