UC3M coordinates a European project to develop terahertz-based 6G technologies

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The European project TERA6G, coordinated by the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M), develops integrated photonics-based 6G technologies to enable the new generation of wireless mobile networks, which are expected to start rolling out from 2030.

One of the main problems in current networks is the delay associated with the communications, that is, the waiting time between sending information and receiving a response for it. "In the gaming world it is known as ’lag’ and can determine the outcome of a game. However, in critical communications links, such as autonomous driving, these delays can not be allowed as it may be the difference between having an accident or avoiding it", explains the head of the TERA6G project, Guillermo Carpintero, a professor from UC3M’s Department of Electronic Technology.

To advance current networks, researchers and technologists in TERA6G project aim to build wireless information superhighways, increasing the speed of information in mobile networks from 100 megabits per second in 5G to 10 gigabits per second in 6G (that is, 100 times faster) to reduce the waiting time in data exchange by an order of magnitude. "And this will be achieved by, among other efforts, raising the carrier frequencies into the terahertz range", explains Guillermo Carpintero. The terahertz range, lying between the radio-frequency (microwaves) and optical (infrared) bands, is the last frontier of the electromagnetic spectrum with great potential in the field of mobile communications.

The main objective of this project is to develop the devices enabling high-speed wireless links and which in addition can be controlled so that the operators can turn channels on and off depending on users’ needs. "One of the objectives of the 6G generation is to reduce power consumption, and an effective way to do so is by continuously adapting the capacity of the network to the user demand at all times. For example, when do you need more capacity from communications networks? Basically in the morning, when people are on their way to work, watching videos or series while commuting, as well as in the evening when they go back home becoming idle at night when everyone is covered by their own wifi at home. Therefore, we need devices that allow us to adapt the capacity to the users’ needs to thus save energy", concludes Guillermo Carpintero.

To do this, the project brings together both hardware developers (those who will create these new wireless photonic devices) and developers of the control layers of communications networks. This project also draws on the knowledge generated in previous European scientific projects developed by the members of the TERA6G consortium within the framework of H2020, such as: ARIADNE, GA871464; FUDGE-5G, GA871668; TERAWAY GA871668; and TERRANOVA GA761794.

With all this, they hope to achieve a secure, uninterrupted communications system that meets key performance characteristics. First of all, it must be agile, providing an ultra-wide bandwidth in the terahertz range used to enable handling a large number of users through MIMO techniques (multiple inputs and multiple outputs, involving a large number of antennas and beams). Secondly, it must be scalable, allowing the number and capacity of communication channels to be adapted to the users' needs at all times. And thirdly, it must be reconfigurable, so that it can combine communications functions with sensing functions that locate the user's location and enable more efficient communication).

TERA6G (TERAhertz integrated systems enabling 6G Terabit-per-second ultra-massive MIMO wireless networks) has received funding from the Smart Networks and Services Joint Undertaking (SNS JU) under the European Union's Horizon Europe research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement GA 101096949, which will be carried out between 2023 and 2026. Coordinated by UC3M, it has a budget of over 6 million euros and brings together 10 partners from five different countries. Among others, those participating include research centres such as the Fraunhofer Institute ; educational institutions such as the University of Piraeus and the Athens Polytechnic (both in Greece) and the University of Oulu (Finland); SMEs such as LioniX or PHIX (in the Netherlands) and Cumucore (Finland) and large companies such as Intracom Telecom (Greece) and Telefónica (Spain).