Melina Diamantopoulou, Producer of the 6G Summit, speaks with Orange's Eric Hardouin, VP, Networks and Infrastructure Research to learn more about his current projects on network evolution towards the next generation of connectivity.
Eric will be joining the panel 'Defining the need and timelines for a 6G network' at 6G Summit, 26 April, Berlin.
1. As VP, Networks and Infrastructures Research at Orange, what are the current projects you are working on in regards to network evolution towards the next generation of connectivity?
We are addressing future network technologies to be deployed in the 2030s, focusing on the following three priorities.
- Firstly, how to bring value to society at large, including citizens, industries, large and small, and public services.
- Secondly, how to design future networks to deliver this value, in a way that is sustainable, secure and resilient.
- Finally, how to make a sustainable business with these. This involves investigating future use cases, and at the same time, identifying ways to assess their value to their future users, and of course, designing technical solutions to meet the diverse requirements that apply to future networks.
Defining a new technology is a collaborative effort therefore Orange is engaged in a number of initiatives shaping 6G. These include: collaborative research projects, particularly the Hexa-X and Hexa-X-II European Flagship projects, industry forums like NGMN, which provides guidance to the ecosystem from operators perspective, and the IOWN Global Forum which is aimed at defining the future of fixed networks.
2. In your view, what will be the first 6G use cases, and why? Will 6G be called to realise all that 5G had promised but didn’t deliver, or more?
It is still too early to have a clear vision of what will be the first 6G use cases. Among the main use cases commonly identified for 6G, and we believe have value potential, are immersive communications and massive digital twinning, and their applications to various sectors, e.g. health, education, industry or entertainment. 5G already enables more immersive communication with the arrival of XR, and digital twins are already possible today, so most likely it will be a continuous journey towards better experience and capabilities, with 6G allowing adoption at scale of more demanding services in terms of data transfer.
In addition to solving the technical challenges to enable these use cases, both in terms of network performance and overall CO2 footprint to meet the net-zero commitments most operators have committed to, a key task we need to undertake now is to validate the relevance of the use cases with representatives of their future users, in order to ensure we are building a technology in line with what people want from the future.
3. Will 6G manage to bring additional revenue to telcos, and in what timelines?
One of the main roles of 6G will be to allow networks to accommodate the traffic growth at acceptable cost and energy consumption, by allowing the deployment of new frequency bands on the existing radio sites, exactly as we are currently doing with 5G. This assumes that bands in the range of 7 to 15 GHz will be identified for 6G, as there is not much spectrum left below 6 GHz. Besides, 6G will feature radio sensing capabilities, that may allow a new revenue stream for operators. Also, non-terrestrial networks, which are expected by then to be fully mature, would naturally allow operators to reach new customers. Lastly, the envisioned role for 6G to provide a platform for computing and AI services also opens possibilities for new business partnerships. How much additional revenue these new dimensions will generate is again too early to say.
4. Many argue that 6G will be a platform for a more sustainable tomorrow. Do you agree with this and, if so, how would you expect the technology to enhance telco operations and their contribution to society?
At Orange, we believe that the Information and Communication Technologies in general are indeed an enabler to reduce the environmental footprint of society. The most obvious example is the reduction of transportation CO2 emissions thanks to teleworking or virtual conferences, now well established into our habits to complement less frequent physical meetings. Nevertheless, a virtual meeting cannot always replace an in-person meeting. What if we could further enhance the communication immersion, ideally to give the impression the distant correspondent is in the same room? This is what 6G immersive communication is about, and it has the potential to further reduce the number of occasions when a physical trip would be needed, short or long. The same goes with digital twins, where remote monitoring of assets and predictive maintenance could allow to keep them working for a longer time, thereby reducing the frequency of their replacement, or to reduce the number of useless engineer interventions – also for network operations. But in order to maximize the benefits of 6G with respect to sustainability, we need to design it with this goal in mind. Therefore, we need inputs from various society sectors on their sustainability issues so that we can jointly imagine the ICT services that would reduce them, and the related network requirements. And, all of this makes sense only if the technology is itself sustainable. This is why both “6G for sustainability” and “sustainable 6G” are central in the 6G research.
5. You will be joining an international panel of experts at the upcoming 6G Summit (26 April, Berlin). Can you give us a sneak peak of what you will be discussing on stage and what are you hoping to achieve by attending the event?
This event will be a great opportunity to progress on our mutual understanding of what we need to do as an ecosystem to design a 6G that will deliver value to everyone. I will participate in a panel discussion on the need and timelines for a 6G network, where we will exchange views on several of the above topics, including the investments topic. One additional topic I would like to bring to the discussion is how we will interact with future users, particularly citizens and industries, during the process of defining 6G from now until commercial launches. To me, this will be instrumental in the success of 6G.