6G component provides the speed and efficiency required for the next-generation network

Even while customers won’t see 6G for several years, experts all around the world are already laying the groundwork for it. Components that will enable future gadgets to achieve the faster speeds required for such a technological leap have been developed by an international team of scientists under the direction of academics at The University of Texas at Austin.

The researchers presented new radio frequency switches that keep devices connected by hopping between networks and frequencies while receiving data in a recent publication that was published in Nature Electronics. These new gadgets, which are built of two-dimensional materials and require substantially less energy to work than switches found in most electronics today, are faster and have longer battery lives.

“Anything that is battery-operated and needs to access the cloud or the 5G and eventually 6G network, these switches can provide those low-energy, high-speed functions,” said Deji Akinwande, professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the principal leader of the project.

Because of the increased demand for speed and power, 6G devices will probably have hundreds of switches in them, many more than the electronics currently on the market. To reach increased speeds, 6G devices will have to access higher frequency spectrum bands than today’s electronics, and these switches are key to achieving that.

Making these switches, and other components, more efficient is another important part of cracking the code for 6G. That efficiency goes beyond battery life. Because the potential uses for 6G are so vast, including driverless cars and smart cities, every device will need to virtually eliminate latency.

Akinwande previously developed switches for 5G devices. One of the main differences this time is the materials used. These new switches use molybdenum disulfide, also known as MOS2, stuck between two electrodes.

These types of devices, called memristors, are typically used for memory. But the adaptation to use these as switches opens potential for devices, both current and future, to hit new standards of speed and battery life.

Akinwande is part of a group of researchers at UT Austin preparing for 6G. Last year, 6G@UT launched, with industry leaders including Samsung, AT&T, NVIDIA, Qualcomm and more partnering with researchers to advance 6G development.

The next generation of wireless will be infused with technologies that have come of age during the past decade: ubiquitous sensing, augmented reality, machine learning and the ability to use higher frequency spectrum at mmWave and THz bands. These technologies will be at the heart of the research happening at the 6G@UT center.

Each wireless generation lasts about a decade, and the 5G rollout began in 2020. Akinwande said 6G deployment isn’t likely to happen until around 2030. But the time is now to put all the necessary building blocks in place.

“For the technology to be deployed by 2030, a lot of the components, a lot of the architecture needs to be resolved years in advance so that system-level integration and execution can happen in time for the rollout,” Akinwande said.

The next step in this project is to integrate the switches with silicon chips and circuits. The researchers are looking at improving how well the switches can jump between frequencies, which would give devices better connections on the go. They are pursuing collaborations with industry partners on developing the switches for commercial adoption.

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