Unveiling the Possibilities of 6G XR: Insights from the 6G@UT Forum

The groundwork for future 6G is already being laid today through a number of regional, international and cross-disciplinary research collaborations worldwide.

This includes the 6G@UT Forum, a collaboration between Ericsson and the University of Texas, which recently hosted its annual future-looking event that attracted eminent guess from leading US tech players and academic institutions. The focus of this year’s event? 6G and immersive technologies, with topics such as future network evolution, multi-modal sensing, real-time 3D compression technologies and spectrum, net neutrality and other regulatory considerations all on the table.

Catch up on the five key takeaways from the event below.

1. Taking XR to the next level with 6G will require significant advances across network and application domains

The era of 6G will be defined by a new cyber-physical world that can deliver massive advanced XR- and holographic communication.

Realizing this vision will require a series of interrelated technology developments, such as advances within the XR device ecosystem towards standalone, lightweight form factors that enable fully immersive experiences and multi-user experiences while maintaining low device complexity and/or acceptable battery performance.

It will also require developments within the field of video understanding and perceptually optimized XR compression, as well as the need to intersect communication, computation, and sensing capabilities – making it possible for AR content to adapt dynamically to changing physical environments.

Future 6G XR will also place entirely new demands on the network in terms of uplink, downlink, latency, and jitter requirements depending on the deployment scenario. For example, while near-term 5G conversational AR applications may require somewhere up to 20 Mbps downlink, 10 Mbps uplink and 20 milliseconds latency (including RAN and Core), it is expected that future massive multisensory XR could require anything up to 1 Gbps downlink, 100 Mbps uplink and 5 milliseconds latency – with a need for high edge cloud compute offload. Some extremely demanding holographic communication use cases that feature very high fidelity could even place demands of up to 10 Gbps downlink, 5 Gbps uplink and as low as one millisecond latency on the network.

At the 6G@UT Forum, some of the tech sector’s most eminent voices shared their perspectives on the technology challenges that lay ahead. T-Mobile’s Karri Kuoppamaki, Senior Vice President of Technology Development and Strategy, provided an update on T-Mobile’s 5G network and shared his thoughts on the path to achieving immersive experiences with 6G. He emphasized the key expectations for 6G in terms of spectrum, efficiency, technology evolution, and intelligence. Hemanth Sampath, Vice President of Engineering at Qualcomm, highlighted device perspectives, including latency and perception-aided mmW beam selection. And Vishal Shah, General Manager of Lenovo AR/VR, provided end-to-end perspectives on enterprise use cases of XR.

Above: In his opening keynote, Ericsson’s Magnus Frodigh, Vice President and Head of Ericsson Research, discussing the key technology developments required to scale XR use cases in the near, medium, and long term.

2. New research challenges also present new regulatory questions

Achieving the breakthroughs required by 6G XR will also depend on a range of important deal-breakers concerning spectrum, net neutrality regulations, and business model considerations which the ecosystem must address.

AI-native architecture, API-enabled network platforms, and new compute fabrics such as energy-efficient neuromorphic compute, will also carry significant weight in terms of service enablement and acceleration, and must also be addressed in coming years.

For tech ecosystems this opens up a number of new research challenges in coming years including THz spectrum capabilities, interdisciplinarity and system thinking.

Panel discussion on redefining the boundaries of human experience in the 6G era chaired by Ericsson’s Mischa Dohler with guest panelists Tom Novlan (Lead Member of Technical Staff at AT&T Labs), Giampaolo Tardioli (Vice President at Keysight) and Aris Papapsakellariou (Vice President at Samsung).

Above: Panel discussion on redefining the boundaries of human experience in the 6G era chaired by Ericsson’s Mischa Dohler with guest panelists Tom Novlan (Lead Member of Technical Staff at AT&T Labs), Giampaolo Tardioli (Vice President at Keysight) and Aris Papapsakellariou (Vice President at Samsung).

3. Multi-modal sensing and digital twins could be central to 6G XR immersion

The interplay between multi-modal sensing, ubiquitous connectivity, and 6G positioning technologies, together with digital twin and cloud-based spatial mapping technologies, will form a cornerstone of future programmable worlds and provide a new playing field for truly immersive communication.

Massive multi-modal data collection from physical sensors – in many cases network-integrated joint communication and sensing (JCAS) – will be key to realizing this.

The DeepSense dataset, a large-scale multi-modal sensing and communication dataset developed by Professor AlKhateeb for 6G deep learning research, is one example of ongoing research in this field.

This dataset captures sensing and communication data from real-world environments, such as camera images, as well as mmWave radio, LiDAR, and radar data. It can be used for developing insights on how sensing data can be used for enhancing communications.

The relationship between sensing, communication and XR was covered in a panel discussion at the Forum. Professor Todd Humphreys, chair of discussion, shared his reflection about this panel:

“The discussion [on sensing and communication for XR] was for me one of the highlights of the event, and ranged from the type of sensing needed for XR to the radio technologies required to support the XR’s massive video bandwidth. We also touched on whether current urban datasets can give us a sense of the challenges ahead as we build urban digital twins.”

4. Video compression technologies play a vital role in XR development

High-quality 6G XR experiences will also be dependent on the advancement of video compression technologies. Ericsson has been a key driver of efficient video compression for more than 20 years and realize this to be a key component of future XR experiences. Read more in the article VVC: The key to next-generation media services.

Speaking at the event, Professor Alan Bovik, Director of LIVE Lab, 6G@UT, UT Austin, identified key opportunities and challenges in implementing compression in real-time immersive 3D environments and discussed the need to define quality of experience (QoE) metrics.

Professor Kristen Grauman, Research Director at Meta AI and Professor at University of Texas at Austin, highlighted the importance of egocentric video understanding and the future of AR, exploring how first-person video captures could enable new ways of using these technologies for things like episodic memory (e.g., where did I put my keys), capturing everyday tasks for the purpose of learning, and automating note and diary taking, etc. The professor’s Ego4D research project, a large data set of annotated first-person video material, could be used for research in this field.

5. Ecosystem collaborations are crucial to national security, growth and competitiveness

Ecosystem research collaborations such as the 6G@UT Forum play a key role in exploring and developing national technology and policy issues which stems from the strategic importance of 6G and XR technologies in bolstering national security, economic growth, and global competitiveness.

The US ecosystem thus had the opportunity to better understand the advancements and potential applications of these technologies, allowing for informed decisions about policies, regulations, and investments.

Professor Jeff Andrews shared his reflection: “The collaboration between 6G@UT and Ericsson was very successful, allowing the Forum to bring in a very wide variety of top-notch speakers spanning many aspects of XR applications and content, as well as the evolution of 5G cellular networks to support this exciting new use case. Overall, the weekly brainstorming and collaboration with Eric, Per, and Mischa at Ericsson allowed us to take this event to a new level of excellence, which we look forward to building upon next year, with a goal of increasing attendance both in person and especially online, to maximize the impact of this unique event.”

About the 6G@UT Forum

The 6G@UT Forum is backed by a new partnership between Ericsson and the 6G@UT research center at the University of Texas. With more than 30 faculty members and 170 Ph.D. students, the center’s research quality, breadth, and depth stand out in the US. Ericsson joined the center as an affiliate member in May 2022, and a few months later, we extended our collaboration with 6G@UT to sponsor and co-organize the center’s annual event.

The first event under this partnership was held in March 2023 and drew over 200 in-person participants as well as around 50 online participants from academia and industry.

The conference achieved its primary goal of establishing a 6G forum for promoting interdisciplinary collaboration, knowledge exchange, and innovation, thereby bolstering the United States’ position as a global leader in 6G technology.

The world-renowned computer scientist Professor Robert Metcalfe, latest winner of the prestigious Turing Award, enjoyed a discussion with a colleague at the Forum. The Forum celebrated Professor Metcalfe’s award during this year’s event.

Above: The world-renowned computer scientist Professor Robert Metcalfe, latest winner of the prestigious Turing Award, enjoyed a discussion with a colleague at the Forum. The Forum celebrated Professor Metcalfe’s award during this year’s event.

The forum also included a poster and demo session, during which more than 40 posters and demos were presented. The posters presented a great opportunity to witness the quality of research being conducted by UT Austin students and researchers. The students presented insightful contributions on a broad spectrum of relevant next-generation topics, such as new machine learning technologies applied to immersive extended reality applications and efficient beamforming methods for emerging 6G joint communications and sensing applications.

As part of the event, Ericsson also showcased its holographic communications demonstration offering attendees the ability to interact with a virtual object with realistic depth features in a shared environment.

Attendees at the 6G@UT Forum in Austin, Texas.

Above: Attendees at the 6G@UT Forum in Austin, Texas.

The road to 6G leadership in North America

As a leading company in the US 5G market, Ericsson is proud to collaborate with academic, industrial, and governmental partners to cultivate platforms for 6G research and technology, thereby promoting the development of cutting-edge technologies and services that can shape the future of connectivity and immersive experiences both regionally and globally.

This is a role that Ericsson plays very actively in the North American region today. For example, Ericsson partnered with the NSF and other organizations to launch the RINGS program, which fosters academic 6G research in the US. Additionally, as a founding member of the Next G Alliance (NGA), Ericsson is committed to promoting North American leadership in 6G technology.

We are thrilled with the outcome of this year’s event. It has been a great pleasure working with Professor Jeff Andrews, Professor Todd Humphreys, and the amazing faculty and staff at 6G@UT. We look forward to building on this year’s success to establish the 6G@UT Forum as a prominent 6G forum in the US in the coming years.

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