European telecoms body examines terahertz for future 6G communications • The Register

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) has established a new Industry Specification Group (ISG) to conduct preliminary work on the potential use of terahertz frequencies in 6G communications.

The newly launched ISG THz already has 31 participating companies, according to ETSI, and recently held its first meeting to decide priorities for work on terahertz frequency bands as a candidate technology for 6G, which is still in an embryonic stage of development.

The group will focus on two categories of use cases: mobile applications with high data rate requirements such as virtual or augmented reality; and applications that require both communication and sensing capabilities, such as holographic telepresence and interactive robotics.

According to ETSI, the appeal of terahertz frequencies (which could mean anything between 100 GHz and 10 THz) is that there is a huge bandwidth available, with the International Telecommunication’s Union (ITU) classifying 137 GHz of the available spectrum as between 275 GHz and 450 GHz suitably identified.

With such frequencies, extremely high data rates can also be achieved – according to a separate report up to several terabit per second [PDF] by the US Department of Energy – while the small wavelength of the signals allows for compact and miniaturized devices and antennas, claims ETSI.

However, as the ITU acknowledges, there are challenges in using terahertz frequencies for communications. These include that molecular absorption and propagation losses are much greater in terahertz-range transmissions than at millimeter wave (mmWave) frequencies (between 24 GHz and 40 GHz, depending on who you’re listening), which have been adopted for high-speed 5G services by many territories.

Not surprisingly, ISG THz focuses on analyzing specific propagation effects for terahertz communications, including molecular absorption and specific considerations on scattering and reflections. It will aim to define the target scenarios and specific frequency bands of interest.

Despite the obstacles, ETSI claims that several European and international initiatives focused on 6G research and development currently assume that terahertz wavelengths will play a role in the next generation of mobile networks and that the ISG THz group therefore will work to support the future 3GPP standardization work.

However, Bill Ray, VP Analyst for Emerging Technology & Trends at Gartner, said he believes 6G will be much more about spectral agility, or the ability to utilize frequency bands based on available frequencies, much like it is currently the case the 6 GHz spectrum in Wi-Fi 6E and 7.

“The push to higher frequencies is being driven by engineers, not end users, who have already shown a clear disinterest in mmWave,” Ray said.

“The only reason ETSI is looking at terahertz frequencies is that they are technically possible, not because anyone wants them,” he added. “Terahertz signals are indeed terrible for communicating over distances longer than a few centimeters.”

ETSI states that terahertz communication shares certain challenges with millimeter wave technology. This will give the ISG THz group the opportunity to collaborate with others within ETSI, one working on millimeter waves (ISG mWT) and the other on reconfigurable smart surfaces (ISG RIS), it said.

Reconfigurable Smart Surfaces? No, neither do we. It apparently refers to surfaces of engineered material that can be reconfigured to control the propagation of electromagnetic waves by changing the surface properties.

Paolo Pescatore, analyst and founder of PP Foresight, told us that it’s too early to think much about 6G if 5G isn’t widespread yet, but it’s still important to explore what’s feasible.

“An open, collaborative approach to frameworks and standards is in the best interests of all stakeholders,” he said.

Nokia is just one company involved in early 6G research as part of the Germany-funded 6G-ANNA project. Earlier this year it said it expects 6G standardization work could start in 2025, leading to the first 6G specification in 3GPP Release 21 by 2028 and possible commercial deployments around 2030. ® European telecoms body examines terahertz for future 6G communications • The Register

Rick Schindler

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