Seven Defining Features of Terahertz (THz) Wireless Systems

Wireless communication at the terahertz (THz) frequency bands (0.1–10 THz) is viewed as one of the cornerstones of tomorrow’s 6G wireless systems. Owing to the large amount of available bandwidth if properly deployed THz frequencies can potentially provide significant wireless capacity performance gains and enable high-resolution environment sensing. However operating a wireless system at high-frequency bands such as THz is limited by a highly uncertain and dynamic channel. Effectively these channel limitations lead to unreliable intermittent links as a result of an inherently short communication range and a high susceptibility to blockage and molecular absorption. Consequently such impediments could disrupt the THz band’s promise of high-rate communications and high-resolution sensing capabilities. In this context this paper panoramically examines the steps needed to efficiently and reliably deploy and operate next-generation THz wireless systems that will synergistically support a fellowship of communication and sensing services. For this purpose we first set the stage by describing the fundamentals of the THz frequency band. Based on these fundamentals we characterize and comprehensively investigate seven unique defining features of THz wireless systems : 1) Quasi-opticality of the band 2) THz-tailored wireless architectures 3) Synergy with lower frequency bands 4) Joint sensing and communication systems 5) PHY-layer procedures 6) Spectrum access techniques and 7) Real-time network optimization. These seven defining features allow us to shed light on how to re-engineer wireless systems as we know them today so as to make them ready to support THz bands and their unique environments. On the one hand THz systems benefit from their quasi-opticality and can turn every communication challenge into a sensing opportunity thus contributing to a new generation of versatile wireless systems that can perform multiple functions beyond basic communications. On the other hand THz systems can capitalize on the role of intelligent surfaces lower frequency bands and machine learning (ML) tools to guarantee a robust system performance. We conclude our exposition by presenting the key THz 6G use cases along with their associated major challenges and open problems. Ultimately the goal of this article is to chart a forward-looking roadmap that exposes the necessary solutions and milestones for enabling THz frequencies to realize their potential as a game changer for next-generation wireless systems.