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Finland has boosted its ambition to become a major hub for Nordic and European 6G research after establishing a national public-private partnership tasked with advancing the development of 6G.
The 6G Finland Coalition (6G-FC), as it is known, intends to use the value from its investment in 6G research to bolster the global competitiveness of both Finnish enterprises and the national economy in the as-yet unstandardised 6G field.
6G-FC is backed by some of Finland’s leading technology groups and centres of 6G innovation, including Nokia and the University of Oulu (UoO). Nokia’s participation in 6G-FC is led by Nokia Bell Labs, the company’s Oulu-headquartered chief centre for disruptive research and innovation.
Nokia has been steadily reinforcing its 6G reputation and focus since 2020. This month, the company formed a joint-venture collaboration with NTT Docomo, the mobile telephone subsidiary of Japan’s Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation, to define and develop key technologies directly related to the commercial exploitation of 6G.
The potential for intensifying 6G opportunities between Finland and Japan also gained traction in May this year during a visit by a Finnish trade delegation to Toyko led by prime minister Sanna Marin. The prospects for closer collaboration in the 6G area featured prominently, as part of broader talks that covered proposals to greatly expand collaboration in the information and communication technology (ICT) domain between the two countries.
UoO, which manages Finland’s 6G Flagship R&D programme, launched in 2018, is already engaged in a cross-border 6G collaboration with Jio Estonia and its Mumbai-based digital technology parent group Jio Platforms. UoO’s partnership with Jio has prioritised the creation of research projects to explore “6G and beyond opportunities” that have a global point of reference.
Apart from Nokia and UoO, the core expertise in 6G-FC is provided by other leading founding partners – the Finnish Defence Research Agency (Puolustusvoimien Tutkimuslaitos), the state-funded VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, BusinessOulu, Aalto University, Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology, University of Helsinki, University of Tampere, and Oulu University of Applied Sciences.
“The discussion around 6G development continues to accelerate worldwide,” said Mikko Uusitalo, head of research at Nokia Bell Labs Finland and chairman of the 6G Finland Coalition (6G Finland). “For Finland, this is an excellent moment to strengthen 6G cooperation nationally, and to become an even stronger player as a Finnish team in the development of 6G globally.”
The goals set for 6G-FC concentrate on building new international partnerships and increasing the impact of Finland’s 6G expertise internationally. 6G-FC will also intensify 6G cooperation nationally using a more prioritised and coordinated joint-action strategy.
A significant and immediate task for 6G-FC will be to create a “6G roadmap” that can identify the most important common priorities, said Uusitalo. The coalition would also serve as both a “national contact point” for Finnish 6G expertise and operate in an ambassadorial role to actively participate in the discussion around 6G technologies nationally and internationally, he added.
Finland’s 6G know-how took a major leap forward in 2018 with the establishment of the UoO-managed 6G Flagship R&D programme. This large-scale research project put Finland firmly on the world 6G innovation map, a position that was reinforced when Nokia Bell Labs was named project leader for the pan-European Hexa-X 6G flagship project funded by the European Commission under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
The consortium behind Hexa-X, which was established to drive research into the next generation of wireless networks, includes UoO and Aalto University. The Hexa-X vision aims to connect human, physical and digital worlds with a fabric of 6G technology enablers. The initiative was the first official research programme across the industry ecosystem to accelerate 6G research and catapult European leadership in the 6G sphere.
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Finland’s next pivotal stage of advance in the 6G domain will be a government-financed project to build a national 6G test network. This network is regarded as one of the priority areas in the Finnish government’s Rapid Recovery Funds (RRF) programme, said Matti Latva-aho, director of the national 6G Finland Flagship initiative.
“6G Finland is bringing together all relevant stakeholders in 6G research, development and innovation efforts,” he said. “We are also partnering with Japan, and this collaboration can have a strong beneficial influence on 6G development.
“Collaboration in funding is also needed, and the national research programme being planned by Business Finland can possibly support these goals.”
Business Finland is the Finnish government’s main business support agency for indigenous companies, which is also tasked with promoting Finland and attracting inward foreign investment.
The pace of research work being conducted at the Oulu-headquartered 6G Finland and at Nokia Bell Labs suggests that 6G systems could be ready for commercial launch by 2030.
Based on this timeline, the first phase of standardisation could start in 2025. “In the meantime, 5G will be enhanced by 5G-Advanced,” said Uusitalo.
The 6G Flagship began the second phase of its research work in May. The next four-year research stage is expected to be its most intensive so far, with a solid focus on developing solutions to a wide range of unresolved problems.
“Over the next four years, we will invest time investigating all possible alternatives that make 6G possible,” said Latva-aho. “Our ground-breaking work to identify key research challenges and directions is as valid as ever.”
Moving forward, the 6G Flagship’s four fundamental areas of core research will cover wireless connectivity, device technologies, distributed intelligence and human-centric wireless services. A critical area of research will involve finding solutions to ensure that 6G can provide increased transmission capabilities, combined with a safe and dependable global service delivery, to help bridge the existing digital divide.
Operating in close collaboration with the newly formed 6G-FC, the 6G Flagship’s second phase of research work will also look to develop new connectivity techniques to accommodate higher spectrum bands towards the THz regime.
Also high up on the workload of the 6G Flagship’s second phase research drive will be finding innovative ways to integrate sensing capabilities into communication systems, while creating unique connectivity strategies and solutions that work at various frequencies to meet the demands of different verticals.