Building the Digital Society Infrastructure with 6G



1.6G and the Unwired Society Infrastructure

When we hear the term 6G, we tend to associate it with advanced communication technologies. However, we view 6G in a broader sense. While communication technology is certainly important, our goal is not just to exchange data, but to achieve services and experiences that result from it.

6G goes beyond simply enabling faster and more efficient communication. It is one of the necessary elements to push the boundaries of possibilities and deliver experiences tailored to a new lifestyle. We believe that 6G serves as the foundation that enables a diverse range of services and experiences, shaping the future of society, rather than only being a function for data transmission. SoftBank Research Institute of Advanced Technology defines the Unwired Society as a future digital society that is unleashed from the constraints of current technologies. We are advancing research and development to realize this vision.

The Unwired Society infrastructure consists of three elements. The first element is the communication infrastructure. In a digital society, a foundation for exchanging information is crucial. The second element is data, or information itself. The data we utilize has been growing exponentially, with reports stating that annual data generation has reached the scale of zettabytes. The era when humans alone generated information has ended, and we have entered an era where IoT devices such as sensors and robots generate information, as well as AI that generates various additional information based on that data. It is necessary to manage and utilize such data appropriately to create new services. The third element is the computational infrastructure that processes this data. We need mechanisms for how to and/or where to handle and process the ever-increasing amount of data. Computers are needed at every stage of data processing. The Unwired Society infrastructure is a framework designed to blend these three elements in a balanced way, with the goal of creating a society that enriches our lives.

Of course, the three elements mentioned earlier have existed in the past and are being combined and utilized even now. So, what will differentiate the infrastructure of the future digital society from that of today? We believe that the answer lies in the significant improvement in the quality of component technologies and the level of coordination of realized functionalities.

For example, services that allow individuals to stream live video online from anywhere in the world were not feasible a decade ago. It might be more accurate to say that it was believed to be unachievable due to technological limitations in the first place. However, as technology has evolved, the combination of increased communication bandwidth, advancements in video codecs, service areas, and the development of cameras and smartphones has led to the emergence of new services. Such things are likely to continue occurring into the future. Services that are beyond our current imagination will be brought to life through the bottom-up progression of foundational technologies and the creativity of creators.

We are aiming to build the infrastructure of an unwired society that will likely be essential for everyone's future imagination. By refining each component technology, we will create a world where technology does not become a shackle to imagination

2. Toward the Realization of the Unwired Society

What are the key component technologies for creating new services? While innovation in individual component technologies is certainly necessary, unlike before, the advancement of any single component technology is becoming less likely to directly lead to the realization of new services.

Communication advancement will continue to be important, just as it has been in the past. Thanks to the realization of high-capacity communication, we can now seamlessly enjoy videos and music. However, in situations where remote conferencing is used, for example, many people might still feel various discomforts, noticing that it's different from having a conversation face-to-face. The causes of this problem include latency issues, limitations in the data processing methods, display devices for videos, the absence of senses other than visual and auditory feedback, and more. We have reached a complex domain where simply improving communication quality alone does not resolve the issue.

Decentralization of computational resources

Predicting the requirements for services that will emerge in the future is not an easy task. However, by combining existing component technologies, it is possible to create a foundation for more flexible services. One of the areas we are focusing on is the decentralization of computational resources. The issue of latency mentioned earlier is strongly influenced by the physical distance. To minimize latency, it is necessary to reduce the distance. By distributing computational resources across various locations, such as edge data centers, some of the issues can be resolved by bringing communication endpoints closer to services. Distributing computational resources also allows for more flexibility in constructing services. Currently, it is common to build large-scale data centers to aggregate and operate various services. However, not all data and processing necessarily need to be centralized. With distributed computational infrastructure throughout the country, it will be possible to process data near the user's location. The issue of massive power consumption in large-scale data centers can be addressed by the more efficient operation of power infrastructure through regional distribution.

While decentralized allocation of computational resources may sound straightforward in words, various technical challenges need to be considered for its realization. These include how to coordinate and manage a distributed infrastructure, how to design communication networks between distributed data centers, what technologies to use to minimize impact in the event of a failure, and whether there are cost benefits compared to large data centers, among other complex issues. To achieve distributed computing, a combination of multiple technological developments is required, such as wide-area high-speed communication like optical networks, non-terrestrial networks (NTN) like HAPS and satellite communication, redundant circuits like underwater cables, computational resource management technologies like virtualization, and network protocol technologies with high-fault tolerance.

The demand for computational resources is expanding due to the widespread use of AI. The emergence of new technologies will continue to require even larger amounts of computational resources. The era of aggregating data at a few large data centers and processing it is coming to an end. We need a foundation that can provide abundant computational resources to those who need them anywhere at any time.

Connecting Everything with Communication Technology

In addition to computational resources, innovation in communication is also necessary. Communication speeds are likely to continue improving into the future. In addition to the frequencies currently used, utilizing centimeter waves, terahertz waves, and free space optical communication will enable the construction of more flexible and high-speed communication areas. Similar to computational resources, communication technology will also see a wave of virtualization. We need a world where communication can be upgraded through software modification and where communication services can be built anywhere at any time. The distributed computational infrastructure mentioned earlier also caters to these new demands in software-based communication.

Furthermore, communication will not be limited to human use. In the future, it's possible that the majority of communications will not involve devices we directly interact with, but rather be dominated by sensors, robots, drones, and other autonomous systems. Currently, constructing areas for objects in the air is not yet under consideration, but the era of expanding communication areas from two-dimensional to three-dimensional spaces is approaching. Ground base stations must now accommodate devices including those in the air, and by utilizing HAPS (High Altitude Platform Stations) and satellite communications, it's necessary to extend services widely to currently unreachable mountainous and maritime areas. This effort is crucial for creating a world where people and objects can be connected at all times. The deployment of a three-dimensional network will also contribute to the improvement of fault tolerance. In an era where communication services have become a lifeline, this is especially a critical element in Japan, a country prone to natural disasters.

Efficient use of radio resources for the future needs to be considered as well. Frequencies are currently divided and allocated among mobile network operators, but as technology advances, more precise management will be possible. There is a need to digitally transform inefficient conventional radio services. Unlike wired communication, where communication bandwidth can be expanded by laying new cables, radio waves are a finite resource with a set total amount. Technological innovations and systemic innovations that allow for maximum efficient utilization are necessary.

Data Management and Privacy

In a society that continues digital transformation, the value of data becomes increasingly crucial. Even with computing and communication infrastructures in place, without data, no service holds meaning. We already have a vast amount of digital data about ourselves. To leverage this data, we need both computational infrastructure to process the data and communication to exchange it. At the same time, as all data becomes digital, we need to pay significant attention to how we handle it. Individual data can enhance the quality of personalized services, but mishandling it can lead to privacy issues. We need a foundation that allows individuals to manage the circulation and processing of their own information according to their own preferences.

Various data is already circulating in society. Examples include location information from mobile phones, pedestrian flow data utilizing wireless sensing, meteorological data such as weather and atmospheric information, service data collected by public and private organizations as part of their services, and environmental data such as aerial and satellite images. However, at the current stage, there is no infrastructure to safely utilize this data. Services will be created where each data circulates within an appropriate range, and various industries will emerge, interrelating the data to create new value.

To handle data correctly, secure communication technologies to ensure data safety, authentication technologies to guarantee data reliability, and authorization technologies to control data usage are necessary. These technologies also require the realization of computational resources provided by computational infrastructure and the communication technology to exchange data.

3. SoftBank's Challenge toward the Unwired Society

SoftBank defines 12 challenges as our efforts to build the foundation of the future. By addressing each challenge and continuously innovating component technologies, we will form a framework for new services by utilizing them comprehensively. There may not be a clear distinction between an unwired society and the society that preceded it. Advancements in technology occur in stages, gradually transforming our daily lives. However, one thing that can be said with certainty is that the services available ten years from now will be beyond what we can currently imagine. To bring this vision to life, we firmly believe in the need for further advancement and enhanced collaboration between computing resources, communication infrastructures, and data management.

Through research and development aimed at achieving an unwired society, we will realize a society that fulfills SoftBank's corporate philosophy, “Information Revolution, Happiness for Everyone”.​

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