Hexa-X project envisions seamless unification of the physical, digital and human worlds

Hexa-X – the EU flagship research initiative led by Nokia Oyj (overall lead) and Ericsson (technical manager) and funded by the European Commission – builds on strong participation of major industry and academia stakeholders in Europe to develop the foundation and contribute to industry consensus leading beyond 5G to 6G.

5G is currently paving the way for digitalization, and in the future industries will become increasingly connected, automated and smart in conjunction with consumer interests. Whereas 5G is significantly enhancing our ability to consume digital media anywhere, anytime, 6G should enable us to embed ourselves in entire virtual or digital worlds.

Hexa-X creates a shared 6G vision and defines an intelligent fabric of technology enablers connecting human, physical, and digital worlds achieved through a new ecosystem of networks, sub-networks and device technologies. The project published a report “6G Vision, use cases and key societal values” late February, introducing the common vision from leading device vendors, operators, technology providers, research institutes and universities.

“The focus is on structuring, framing, and developing technology for connectivity needs in the 2030 timeframe, as a first step towards realizing 6G,” says Dr. Mikko Uusitalo from Nokia Oyj, who is leading the project. “The transformation will undoubtedly generate unprecedented economic opportunities for enabling sustainable growth in a trustworthy way. To this end, 6G research should address studies into the fundamentals, design, realization, application and market opportunities of future communications systems.”

If we wish to promote a smooth deployment of future networks towards 2030, it is critical to define clear societal value goals, which help to frame 6G research and guide the subsequent design of future networks. The report introduces three core values for the new interactions enabled by 6G: trustworthiness as a backbone of society; digital inclusiveness to connect the unconnected; and sustainability to make the largest possible impact with sustainable global development goals such as energy efficiency and minimum CO2 footprint.

Aligned with the core values, the report identifies five families of use cases – sustainable development, massive twinning, tele-presence, robots to cobots, and local trust zones – illustrating envisioned trends for the usage of 6G. 

“With this broad set of use cases, we envision a society that fully leverages on the capabilities of 6G, tightly integrating computation, AI governance, and localization and sensing with the communication system,” says Dr. Patrik Rugeland from Ericsson, who is Technical Manager of the Hexa-X project. “This will foster a fully immersive cyber-physical world enabling the internet-of-senses and massive digital twin representations in all facets of society. With the integration of AI, we will see a paradigm-shift towards ubiquitous autonomous systems closely interleaved in every aspect of our lives. Furthermore, 6G is poised to play a significant role in fulfilling the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).“

The usage and impact of 6G also needs to be measured, not only in the level of performance, but also value. Thus, the report explores, among others, the evolution of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to address new use cases, and the definition of meaningful and measurable key value indicators (KVIs) which capture trustworthiness, inclusiveness and sustainability.

“As Hexa-X aims to put the human in the center, we can no longer rely on the legacy indicators from 4G and 5G, only looking at capabilities that are X times 5G,” Rugeland notes. “For certain aspects, it will be necessary to take a holistic view, for instance looking at bounded end-to-end latency or jitter instead of focusing on reducing the air-interface latency. Apart from that, the introduction and integration of novel technologies, that previously have not been associated with mobile networks, such as integrated sensing, compute, or artificial intelligence, will bring about a whole new set of indicators specific to these technologies. Lastly, the major societal challenge of our day, to build a sustainable world, will require the project to develop and evaluate indicators to see how 6G can help address and achieve the SDG targets.”

As the Finnish 6G Flagship program has been a forerunner in 6G research for nearly three years already, it has a unique possibility to leverage its vision and key findings to be further discussed in the Hexa-X project. Experienced 6G Flagship professionals share their viewpoints and technical contributions in Hexa-X for example in the areas of novel radio access and RF technologies, AI-driven air interface design, high-resolution localisation and sensing, dependability beyond URLLC, sustainability, spectrum and business of 6G.

“We are in a unique position to contribute with a broad range of topics studied within Hexa-X by aligning some of the 6G Flagship research to support the goals of this project,” says Professor Matti Latva-aho, Director of 6G Flagship. “Our contributions will be in the areas where major improvements are required in comparison to 5G and where disruptions in some of the vertical ecosystems need to happen. In the near future, we will be contributing also to ITU-R vision building towards 6G, where Hexa-X can provide coherent target setting.”