6G is coming, and The University of Texas at Austin is on the forefront of this telecommunications evolution.

Earlier this year, a new 6G research center formed at UT Austin. And the effort has some big names in the technology scene behind it. Samsung, AT&T, NVIDIA, Qualcomm and InterDigital are all early partners in the 6G@UT center, and they will each fund multiple 6G research projects as part of their partnerships.

The technology is still a long way from rolling out. However, researchers at UT and elsewhere are starting to lay the groundwork. There are still a lot of questions about what 6G will look like, and the answers are just beginning to come into focus.

What is 6G, and how is it different from 5G?

At the most basic level, 6G will be the sixth generation of cellular communication networks, following the fifth generation that has begun rolling out over the last few years. Of course, each new generation of wireless brings with it increased speeds.

What will set 6G apart from 5G is an explosion in sensing capabilities. While 5G devices made a leap in finding and connecting to other devices, 6G devices will be much better at sensing their surroundings. That has major implications for technologies such as self-driving cars, augmented/virtual reality, robotics and more.

When will 6G be a thing?

Probably not for a while, perhaps around 2030. The 5G rollout is just a couple years in and still has a way to go. It took about a decade of research and development before being available to the public. Typically, each G has had about a decade-long life cycle, although it is possible that 5G’s shelf-life will be longer, because of its flexible design.

Why UT?

The 6G@UT center is spun out of the Cockrell School’s Wireless Networking & Communications Group (WNCG), a 19-year-old research center with more than 25 faculty members and 130 students and researchers. WNCG has established UT Austin as a global leader in wireless technology, and its researchers have made important breakthroughs that helped enable 4G and 5G technology. Students graduating from UT Austin have played important roles in creating and standardizing these technologies at WNCG’s industrial affiliates. Among the few universities actively working on 6G, there is a presence of former WNCG researchers at several institutions.

Faculty members involved with 6G@UT are: Jeffrey Andrews, Todd Humphreys, Sanjay Shakkottai, Gustavo de Veciana, François Baccelli, Al Bovik, Constantine Caramanis, Sandeep Chinchali, Alex Dimakis, Brian Evans, Hyeji Kim, Aryan Mokhtari, Lili Qiu, Sujay Sanghavi, Atlas Wang, Haris Vikalo, Jon Tamir, Andreas Gerstlauer, Joydeep Ghosh, José del R. Millán, Edison Thomaz, Deji Akinwande, Ruochen Lu and Nanshu Lu.

by Nat Levy