The Greek scientist who is developing 6G


At the moment, while Greece is unveiling its 5G communications network, at the other end of Europe, a Greek professor and communications engineer is getting a grant from the European Research Council to develop 6G.

Getting from one level of network technology to the next – that is from one G to the next – requires approximately 10 years of research and millions of work-hours, Dr Michalis Matthaiou, professor of communications engineering and signal processing at the Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT) Institute at Queen’s University, Belfast, Northern Ireland, explains to Kathimerini. “Every new generation in mobile telephony is like an extra story in an apartment building. The technology has been evolving constantly since the 1970s.”

He and his team are being funded to the tune of 2 million euros over the next five years. Their work involves making projections about future wireless technology needs. “It is estimated that, in 2025, although the global population will be 8 billion, there will be 50-70 billion mobile devices,” says the Thessaloniki-born professor. “This because each of us will have an array of devices: cellphone, tablet, laptop, watch, car and several ‘smart devices’ such as the washing machine, since we will live in the age of the Internet of Things, or, better, Internet of Everything.”

The challenge for the 39-year-old scientist is obvious: “How we will manage the response to increased needs?”

Wi-Fi is like a river that has to keep a village where children are constantly being born from getting thirsty. “New technologies have to serve a flood of new users,” says the Greek scientist, who began his academic career at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. “We aim to vastly increase speeds: For example, through 6G, we will be able to download 142 hours of movies through Netflix in a second,” he says. “At the same time, we aim to develop applications that will not need huge speeds, like driverless vehicles, that can move in sync, at a relatively low speed, and be reliable.” He gives an example: “A convoy of trucks leaves Hamburg with the Italian port of Bari as the destination. The aim is for all trucks to arrive simultaneously, at the appointed hour.” It is estimated that such transport will have 30% less fuel emissions than conventional ways.

This technology is expected to be ready in 2030. It will also be used in smart factories “where sensors will direct robots with accuracy,” and in telemedicine, which will significantly evolve.

“Up to now, we could only transmit information through radio waves. We aim shortly to be able to transmit energy,” says Dr Matthaiou. “For example, the walls of a hospital could contain thin strips from which one can charge a watch, a pacemaker or an ear implant.”

This will help in energy savings. “Every year, 6 billion batteries are consumed and, as we know, they are difficult to recycle. If we achieve what I described above, savings will equal 10 percent of total consumption,” he notes. A longer-term goal is “the recycling of radio signals through metasurfaces (like ‘smart walls,’ for example) that will act as a smart reflector of radio waves.” So, the ideal future would include green wireless networks, something that not long ago would seem a contradiction in terms.

“We anticipate a rise in users and, therefore, consumption, and, at the same time, a drop in power and emissions. It is a riddle that keeps me constantly alert until I can solve it,” Matthaiou notes.

To those who have demonized 5G – and who knows what kind of urban legend will develop around 6G – Matthaiou responds that breakthrough technologies have always scared people. “It is said that when… electric bulbs were fitted into cars, mothers were keeping their children away from the lights, fearing they would get burned,” he says.