Towards sustainable 6G

Marja Matinmikko-Blue, Dr.Sc. (Tech), Ph.D.

Research Coordinator of 6G Flagship, Centre for Wireless Communications (CWC), University of Oulu, Finland

6G Flagship – World’s first 6G Research Programme

6G research started in 2018 when Finland launched the world’s first 6G research programme called 6G Flagship[1].The 8-year long research effort appointed by the Academy of Finland and led by the University of Oulu envisions a future society towards 2030, which is data-driven and enabled by near instant, unlimited wireless connectivity. The research in 6G Flagship is carried out in four interrelated strategic research areas: wireless connectivity, device and circuit technologies, distributed computing, and applications and services. The three main goals of 6G Flagship are 1) to support industry in finalization of the 5G standard; 2) to develop the essential technology components needed for 6G; and 3) to speed up the digitalization of society via targeted application areas. During the first two and a half years, a total of 1,100 peer-reviewed articles have been published by the 6G Flagship researchers. For an overview of 6G Flagship activities, see the second issue of 6G Waves magazine[2] prepared by the 6G Flagship. 

Under the first goal, the 6G Flagship has supported 5G-enabled economic growth in industry through collaboration with more than 300 companies including joint projects, shared human resources, joint standardization and regulation efforts, and the commercialization of research results. The open 5G Test Network (5GTN) has attracted more than 150 companies to test 5G prototype devices, and to explore higher frequency bands, cognitive management functionalities, and system testing tools for new solutions. 

Under the second goal, 6G Flagship is building an ecosystem and discussion forums to build joint 6G vision and to develop the most promising enablers for 6G with its global network of more than 1,000 collaborators. 6G Flagship has established an annual event, the 6G Wireless Summit 6G. It has also prepared twelve 6G White Papers as a collaborative effort between experts.Under the third goal, 6G Flagship has gained regulatory acceptance for disruptive local 5G operator models; promoted 6G for European and global research agendas; and strengthened global support for using UN SDGs as a basis for 6G development. The program has supported regulation and legislation based on the requirements rising from research especially in the areas of ownership and use of radio spectrum, communications infrastructure, and data. Already now, the Flagship program’s results are visible in decision making at national, European and international levels. 

Global 6G research vision through 6G White Papers

6G Flagship has invited the global community for joint vision building by organizing annual 6G Summits and preparation of 6G White Papers. A group of 70 invited international experts met at the first 6G Wireless Summit in 2019 and developed the world’s first 6G White Paper[3] that was published by the 6G Flagship in September 2019, summarizing the 6G vision statement into Ubiquitous Wireless Intelligence. The experts reached a consensus that 6G research and developed should be driven by United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). The white paper highlights that the integration of sensing, imaging and highly accurate positioning capabilities with the communication service opens a myriad of new applications in 6G. It emphasized the increasing role of indoor networks that will drive the “local operator” paradigm. Regarding the performance of 6G networks, many of the key performance indicators (KPIs) used for 5G continue to be valid also for 6G. However, the KPIs must be critically reviewed and new KPIs must be seriously considered.

A new set of 6G white papers[4] prepared by 250 global experts and published by 6G Flagship in 2020 presents more detailed analysis of selected themes that came up in the preparation of the first white paper. The work was done in expert groups that each prepared a white paper, including linkage to UN SDGs, business of 6G, trials for verticals, remote area connectivity, networking, machine learning, edge intelligence, trust, security and privacy, broadband connectivity, machine type communications and localization and sensing. Technology, sustainability and business are recurring themes in the new white papers and many topics fall under all three – yet the emphasis is different. The business environment will undergo a drastic change when digitalization is gradually introduced to all aspects of society, leading to a new business ecosystem for 6G. 

UN SDGs and 6G – where is the connection?

The White Paper on 6G Drivers and the UN SDG[5]s builds on the current relation between ICT and the UN SDGs and creates a strong linking between the upcoming 6G systems and the UN SDGs – both targeting year 2030. The expert group identified global megatrends, which will drive 6G research and shape the world. The group defines a three-fold role for 6G as 1) provider of services to help reaching the UN SDGs, 2) enabler of measuring tools for data collection to help with the reporting of indicators, and 3) reinforcer of a new ecosystem to be developed in line with the UN SDGs. Existing indicators in the UN SDG framework served as a point of departure in the development of the novel view on the future communication system, where various stakeholders have an active role. 

The white paper proposes that 6G systems could gather a variety of data to report on the achievement of the UN SDGs on a highly local granularity level which today is a challenge that nations face, noting that counter effects are also expected and therefore it is crucial to look into what data actually should be collected and reported and how. The group identified a number of challenges from political, economic, societal, technological, legal and environmental perspectives. 

The new 6G ecosystem is expected to be built around a number of new stakeholders and principles. Pure business-driven operations will be complemented with new societal models including community-driven networks which will emerge depending on the regulatory environment. Another big transformation will come from the vertical industries and their public sector counterparts to whom the achievement of the UN SDGs will place significant economic constraints and they will need to take everything the future technologies can offer to improve systems and processes. This requires an early engagement in the process of 6G development instead of waiting for the telecommunication industry to define what 6G can bring for them. 

The White Paper on 6G Drivers and the UN SDGs also introduces a preliminary action plan for engaging different stakeholders to support the achievement of the UN SDGs with the help of ICT. The work recognizes that the role of ICT in meeting is critical in meeting the UN SDGs and It is not enough to treat them separately. The UN SDG framework will also need to evolve along with the technology development. The white paper emphasizes that the role of ICT should be seen broadly, not only through ICT related indicators in the UN SDG framework, which are currently only seven. ICT’s role in helping to achieve all 17 SDGs is significant and can be seen through investigating on how the use of new technology can contribute to the existing indicators of the UN SDG framework beyond the ICT related indicators. 

The action plan identifies specific roles for stakeholder groups in the joint development and evaluation effort. Governments play a key role in contributing to coverage and low cost of service for everyone through the creation of the regulatory framework and incentives to invest and operate the systems. Often more flexibility is needed to allow low-cost solutions in challenging areas that are not of business interest to operators. For the mobile communication sector, 6G is not only about developing yet another generation, but a true opportunity to contribute to sustainability at large. The role of the research community is important in facilitating stakeholder interact

[1] 6G Flagship

[2] H. Saarela, V. Wittenberg & M. Matinmikko-Blue (eds.) 6G Waves magazine, no 2. 2020.

[3] M. Latva-aho & K. Leppänen (ed.) Key drivers and research challenges for 6G ubiquitous wireless intelligence. University of Oulu. 2019.

[4] 6G White Papers 2020, see

[5] M. Matinmikko-Blue et al. (eds.) White Paper on 6G drivers and the UN SDGs. University of Oulu. 2020.

Marja Matinmikko-Blue

Senior Research Fellow, Adjunct Professor in Spectrum Management, 6G Flagship Research Coordinator

Marja Matinmikko-Blue is 6G Flagship Research Coordinator and Senior Research Fellow at Centre for Wireless Communication (CWC), University of Oulu where she holds an Adjunct Professor position in spectrum management. Prior to joining the University of Oulu in 2016, she had worked at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd. for 15 years. She holds a Dr.Sc. degree in telecommunications engineering on cognitive radio system techniques and a Ph.D. degree in management sciences on stakeholder analysis for spectrum management from University of Oulu in 2012 and 2018. She conducts multi-disciplinary research on technical, business and regulatory aspects of mobile communications. 

She received the Young Scientist of the Year award in Finland in 2013 for her close collaboration between industry, academia and regulators on spectrum matters. She has coordinated several national research project consortia that have successfully demonstrated the world’s first licensed shared access (LSA) spectrum sharing trials and introduced a new local 5G operator concept based on local licensing that has now become a reality in several countries. She has published 150+ scientific publications and prepared 150+ contributions to regulatory bodies on spectrum management in national, European (CEPT) and international (ITU-R) levels. Most recently she coordinated the writing of twelve new 6G White Papers in 6G Flagship and led the group that prepared a white paper on the connection between 6G and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). 

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