Contributing to the technical challenges of 6G networks

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The context

Developed in cooperation with the H2020 MARSAL project, this work focuses on the Networking domain and aims to contribute to the ICT standards (i.e., O-RAN Alliance) by introducing and plant novel concepts such as cell free, and especially cell-free massive MIMO (CF mMIMO) to evolve the current O-RAN architecture specifications.

The aim of applying such solutions is to enhance network capacity, and lower the deployment cost and barriers regarding the operation of software-defined, virtualised and disaggregated RAN networks. In addition, the work also focuses on the life-cycle management for disaggregated virtualized RAN with intelligent workload prediction. 

With the application funded by, we aim to fill standardisation gaps in the networking domain by introducing novel technical solutions (i.e., CF mMIMO and AI/ML based life-cycle management) into the Technical Specifications of the related O-RAN Working Groups.

Adam Flizikowski, ISRD, Fellow

The challenges

Standardisation activities in the Networking field of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) faces a variety of challenges such as architecture design, interoperability, security, quality of service, accessibility, and sustainability. In this project, our aim is to address the architecture challenges of the open radio access networks by the O-RAN Alliance and its specifications. Several Working Groups are working on the improvement and deployment of O-RAN by introducing several open interfaces in the architectures, hardware designs, security aspects, management and orchestration features in the specifications. However, the existing O-RAN specifications do not cover cell-free paradigm, even though it is already proved that cell-free can bring essential improvements to the capacity of the network as well as can improve Electromagnetic Field (EMF) radiation of the 5G networks. We have identified these gaps in the O-RAN specifications.

How standardisation activities help face the challenges

The idea was to incorporate the cell free massive MIMO architecture enhancement into the O-RAN standardisation to help to address the technical challenges of 6G networks. It is foreseen to align with open and interoperable standards and interfaces that enable vendors and operators to collaborate and innovate, but specifically to promote architectural solutions behind Cell-free mMIMO. This way further maximisation of reliability and capacity of data transfer in future networks can be brought to broader set of vendors and later also networks of 6G. Standardisation in long-term provides ways of adopting cell-free into networks but also enables increasing awareness of this new paradigm shift in networks.

The Benefits

Standardisation efforts in the field of information and communication technology (ICT) can provide various benefits to different stakeholders, such as governments, consumers, business, researchers, and SDOs.

First of all, the key benefit is improved network operation, performance and reliability for the future wireless networks that will be following the trend of softwarisation, virtualisation and disaggregation. 
The governments (and public institutions) can benefit by streamlined access to innovation, that is supporting economic growth. It can also help to harmonise regulations and promote international trade.

This can as well benefit consumers by ensuring that products and services are interoperable, reliable, and safe. Practical take-aways can lead to greater convenience, lower costs, and improved user experience.

Moreover, it can benefit businesses by reducing costs associated with product development, testing, and certification. It can also lead to greater market acceptance, increased competition, and improved supply chain efficiency.

In addition researchers would benefit by providing a common language and framework for conducting research. It can also lead to greater access to data and resources, and support the development of new technologies and applications. Overall, standardisation efforts can provide numerous benefits to various stakeholders in the ICT industry, including improved interoperability, increased efficiency, and greater innovation

Future plans

The initial attempt for standardisation was successful for presenting the ideas, design, and results to the O-RAN alliance. Based on interactions and discussion with the internal working groups (e.g. WG1, WG3), the group was recommended to consider initiating discussions with 3GPP/ETSI at this stage which will be approached for continuing the attempt for standardisation of solutions enabling introduction of cell-free and cell-free mMIMO. Future plans consider the frames of either StandICT Open Calls or EC-funded research under the 6G-IA alliance (SNS JU) for continuing relevant efforts to adopt above mentioned topics into standardisation. The group will also work on developing new standards by researching the challenges in different fields  such as software, IT security, cloud computing, and data technologies.