A Greek scientist is developing 6G technology after receiving a 2 million euro grant to pursue the project at Queen’s University, in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
While the world is just starting to discover and enjoy the benefits of 5G cellular technology, an acclaimed Greek researcher is working tirelessly with his team in Northern Ireland towards developing an even more advanced wireless broadband network.
Thessaloniki-born Dr. Michalis Matthaiou, who started his international career after earning his PhD at the University of Edinburgh in 2005, held research positions at a series of esteemed universities in Germany, Sweden, and the USA, before being awarded the Chair of Communications Engineering and Signal Processing at Queen’s University Belfast in 2013.
At the end of 2020, he was approved to receive 2 million euros in the form of the highly prestigious European Research Council Consolidator Grant (2021-2026), to take the next step in his research and transform the latest speculative academic concepts in wireless technology into commercial breakthroughs.
“Since 2018, my team has been investigating and exploring the development of 6G-enabling technologies, leading to the publication of a plethora of research papers on cell-free massive MIMO, intelligent reflecting surfaces and THz communications.
“These technological paradigms have been identified as key to the successful rollout and evolution beyond 5G and 6G networks”, he tells Greek Reporter.
Ever-evolving network technologies
Firstly, Dr. Matthaiou says that it is important to clarify that 6G will not replace 5G; instead, it will be an improved extension of it.
“5G is the first technology that will enable the Internet-of-Things (IoT), while 6G will further improve the connectivity speeds by utilizing higher frequency bands (at the order of THz or 109 Hz) to avail of the substantial amounts of bandwidths available, whereas 5G occupies sub-6 GHz and above 24 GHz frequencies”, he explains.
Another important difference to recognize between 6G and 5G is that the latter requires laborious infrastructure investment and upgrades, whereas 6G will capitalize on the already existent infrastructure for 5G.
“Some applications that will emerge in the context of 6G are super-smart societies, extended reality, connected robotics and autonomous systems, wireless brain-computer interaction, haptic communication, and beyond”, the Greek researcher adds.
As he points out, wireless technologies have been continuously evolving since the 1970s.
“To provide an idea of the scale of growth in the mobile traffic, in 2020 that stood at approximately 62 Exabytes per month, while the forecast for 2030 is that this number will skyrocket to 5016 Exabytes per month — an 80-fold increase.
“It is therefore very evident that we need to keep up with the rapidly escalating increase in the mobile data traffic, and the number of connected devices as well as being mindful of the shifting demographic with migration to cities and increased urbanization trends, by developing powerful, elastic and scalable wireless technologies in preparation for the decades to come,” he concludes.
6G to be launched by 2030
Dr. Matthaiou expects 6G to be launched by 2030. “Historically”, he says, “every generation of wireless technologies has a lifespan of 10 years from theoretical conception to commercial exploitation, and this is also our expectation for 6G”.
While his team is focused on the theoretical modeling and performance evaluation of some candidate 6G-enabling technologies, there are several other academic and industrial groups across the world that are looking into similar problems.
“The research competition is predictably fierce,” he states. “The next step is to physically demonstrate the realizable potential of these technologies using the lab facilities at Queen’s and, finally, to commercialize our physical prototypes.”
He admits that there are several technical challenges pertaining to the successful completion of his ERC Consolidator Grant.
“The main vision of this project is to amalgamate the information and electromagnetic theories for the first time in 70 years. These two theories are based on different principles -probability theory versus Maxwell’s wave equations- and their unification is a hugely challenging exercise.
“Nevertheless, we now have the tools and expertise to confidently create a research platform on which these scientific communities will begin to cross-leverage their complementary expertise. This proposal intends to break the scientific barriers and enable the creation of this platform for the first time ever,” he notes with enthusiasm.
5G conspiracy theories
In the matter of conspiracy theories around 5G technology which have been gaining ground especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Matthaiou gives a calm and collected response.
“Such conspiracy theories have been a common thread throughout the development of successive generations of wireless technologies. Nevertheless, today, with the substantial penetration of social media, it is very easy for such theories to gain access and, eventually, influence a much larger number of people”, he observes.
On the other hand, he prefers to draw more attention to the fact that 5G devices will be consuming fewer watts of power compared to their 3G/4G counterparts.
“This is because the new wireless systems have become better at sending and receiving information, i.e. in a more power-efficient manner. Moreover, 5G base stations have been designed to reduce their power consumption, in order to contribute to the global fight against CO2 emissions.
“This is corroborated by the official press release of the World Health Organization, which seeks to emphasize that 5G, Wi-Fi and other common wireless technologies are not harmful in terms of radiation”, he argues.
As to those connecting 5G with the spreading of COVID-19, Dr. Matthaiou simply comments that such theories contravene common sense.
“In point of fact, it is thanks to wireless technologies that our societies were enabled to continue being functional in these unprecedented times; consider the importance of remote working and e-learning during 2020-2021”, he remarks.