Even as 5G cellular network deployments continue to ramp up within the U.S. and worldwide, major academic programs, research institutes, and commercial R&D operations are turning their focus toward deeper investigations into the promise and realization of 6G technology. Significant government investments have already occurred, and they’re expected to increase dramatically over the next few years. Nations are jockeying for a leadership position in 6G for both commercial and military use cases and seeding early explorations into technology and applications.1
The significant expansions anticipated in all of the usual metrics of cellular communication, including capacity, latency, device density, connection reliability, and other technology growth markers, is well documented.2 Also noteworthy is the burgeoning growth in the number and diversity of devices coming online via the rapidly expanding IoT.
Of course, to name a few areas of substantial growth, these will require significant technology breakthroughs in chipset design, antenna technology, ML-embedded networking, and real-time machine learning.
However, from a broad-based business and consumer perspective, the major impact of 6G is expected to be in the design, deployment, and widespread adoption of a bevy of novel applications that exploit these substantial technological breakthroughs (see figure). Some of the applications being discussed include holographic telepresence, remote surgery, deployment of an autonomous fleet of unmanned vehicles, and deep space or deep ocean exploration.3
The 6G technology breakthrough will need to meet a consistent, predictable, and demanding set of service level agreements (SLAs) to support such diverse applications while adapting to an unprecedented level of system dynamics in a consistent manner.
Although the initial 6G standards are only expected to be released by 3GPP around 2028, technology exploration, design, and integration efforts by the leading chipset, network equipment, and device vendors as well as service providers are expected to get underway considerably sooner. This leads to an important question: How do we test the impact of technology innovations at the end-to-end system level and their eventual impact on provisioning the application-level SLAs?4
A related concern is in understanding and mitigating any interoperability issues with legacy 5G and perhaps even LTE infrastructures. Security aspects are expected to be built into many of these innovations—how can these be addressed from a system-of-systems rather than a component-level perspective?
Digital engineering in general, and specifically digital twins, offer a unique opportunity to assess the combined impact of these innovations at earlier stages of the product lifecycle, perhaps before significant investments have been made to manufacture, integrate, and deploy them in 6G systems. The use of digital twins, and the potential of digital engineering to shorten product development and deployment lifecycles, has gained increased attention.