6G in the sky: On‐demand intelligence at the edge of 3D networks

If you follow us on one or the other social network channels, you are aware that UAVs, Satellites, HAPS & other Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTNs) feature regularly on our channels. We were made aware of this article after it appeared in the online ETRI Journal.

This article was jointly written by researchers in EU and South Korea and the abstract says:

Sixth generation will exploit satellite, aerial, and terrestrial platforms jointly to improve radio access capability and unlock the support of on-demand edge cloud services in three-dimensional (3D) space, by incorporating mobile edge computing (MEC) functionalities on aerial platforms and low-orbit satellites. This will extend the MEC support to devices and network elements in the sky and forge a space-borne MEC, enabling intelligent, personalized, and distributed on-demand services. End users will experience the impression of being surrounded by a distributed computer, fulfilling their requests with apparently zero latency. In this paper, we consider an architecture that provides communication, computation, and caching (C3) services on demand, anytime, and everywhere in 3D space, integrating conventional ground (terrestrial) base stations and flying (non-terrestrial) nodes. Given the complexity of the overall network, the C3 resources and management of aerial devices need to be jointly orchestrated via artificial intelligence-based algorithms, exploiting virtualized network functions dynamically deployed in a distributed manner across terrestrial and non-terrestrial nodes.

Some other interesting details from the paper:

In our view, future 3D system architectures will apply network slicing not only across terrestrial nodes as designed for 5G networks, but also across non‐terrestrial nodes to facilitate different use cases and services provisioned in 3D space. The proposed architecture shall then be able to offer services that go beyond pure connectivity and at the same time offer deep customization of connectivity and intelligent mobile network services at different granularity levels, with spacing from dedicated slices per data of users to slices per individual and groups of users and to slices dedicated to 3D applications and 3D subnetworks. This will require a new adaptable midhaul for an era of services that goes well beyond the services of today's 5G networks and those envisaged in most studies that focus on integrating UAVs into 5G networks.

AI‐based approaches for network control also play a pivotal role in intelligent routing selection across 3D network layers and load balancing. For this reason, the proposed architecture should be able to provide network intelligence capabilities at various levels and include device‐to‐device (D2D) communication, which may be enhanced by the addition of a new dimension and moving network equipment such as UAVs. In 3GPP, the first version of an NR sidelink for the support of advanced V2X applications was developed in Release 16, and in 3GPP Release 17, sidelink‐based relaying functionality will be studied on top of the Release 16 sidelink specification for the purpose of sidelink/network coverage extension and power efficiency improvement. In 6G, D2D communications will be further extended to 3D layers, which could have great potential in facilitating a wider range of applications and services, such as next‐generation intelligent transportation services.

There are still a lot of unknowns here and lots of challenges that need to be overcome, even for 5G. Depending on how 5G NTN progresses, we will see a concrete plan for enhancement of this feature for 6G.

Interestingly, the Dec 2020 issue of ZTE Communications magazine also looked at Future Advanced Satellite Communication Systems and Applications including IoT, 5G, E2E Network Slicing, etc.

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