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Although the fifth generation wireless networks are yet to be fully investigated, the vision and key elements of the 6th generation (6G) ecosystem have already come into discussion. In order to contribute to these efforts and delineate the security and privacy aspects of 6G networks, we survey how security may impact the envisioned 6G wireless systems with the possible challenges and potential solutions. Especially, we discuss the security and privacy challenges that may emerge with the 6G requirements, novel network architecture, applications and enabling technologies including distributed ledger technologies, physical layer security, distributed artificial intelligence (AI)/ machine learning (ML), Visible Light Communication (VLC), THz bands, and quantum communication.
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6G Security Challenges and Potential Solutions
Pawani Porambage, G¨
urkan G¨
ur, Diana Pamela Moya Osorio, Madhusanka Liyanage∗‡, Mika Ylianttila
Centre for Wireless Communications, University of Oulu, Finland
Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) InIT, Switzerland
School of Computer Science, University College Dublin, Ireland
Email: [firstname.lastname]@oulu.fi, gueu@zhaw.ch, madhusanka@ucd.ie
Abstract—Although the fifth generation wireless networks are
yet to be fully investigated, the vision and key elements of
the 6th generation (6G) ecosystem have already come into
discussion. In order to contribute to these efforts and delineate
the security and privacy aspects of 6G networks, we survey how
security may impact the envisioned 6G wireless systems with the
possible challenges and potential solutions. Especially, we discuss
the security and privacy challenges that may emerge with the
6G requirements, novel network architecture, applications and
enabling technologies including distributed ledger technologies,
physical layer security, distributed artificial intelligence (AI)/
machine learning (ML), Visible Light Communication (VLC),
THz bands, and quantum communication
Index Terms—6G, Security, Privacy, DLT, Quantum security,
AI/ML, Physical Layer Security, Security threats
I. INTRODUCTION
Sixth generation (6G) of mobile communication is already
envisioned despite of the fact that 5G specifications are still de-
veloping and 5G coverage is not yet fully provided. The most
significant driving force in 6G leap is the inherent connected
intelligence in the telecommunication networks accompanied
with advanced networking and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
technologies [1]. However, the tight coupling between 6G and
AI does not by definition lead to better security and privacy.
It may also become a means or an apparatus to infringe
them in various cases. The evolution of security landscape of
telecommunication networks from 1G to 5G and then to the
envisioned 6G is illustrated in Figure 1. Moreover, there are
many efforts/proposals on blending novel technologies such
as blockchain, visible light communication (VLC), THz, and
quantum computing/communication features in 6G intelligent
networking paradigms in such a way to tackle the security and
privacy issues. Therefore, 6G security considerations need to
be analyzed in terms of physical layer security, network in-
formation security and advanced learning (e.g., deep learning)
related security [2].
Since the standard functions and specifications of 6G are
yet to be defined, there is still very limited literature that
clearly provides security and privacy insights of 6G networks.
In this article, we try to shed the light on how security may
impact the envisioned 6G wireless systems with a concise
discussion of challenges and then related potential solutions. In
particular, we survey the security and privacy challenges that
may arise with the expected 6G requirements, novel network
architecture, new applications and enabling technologies. We
also discuss the potential security solutions for 6G along the
directions of Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), physical
layer security, quantum security, and distributed AI.
II. SECURITY CHALLENGES IN 6G NE TW OR KS
This section provides the possible security challenges and
threat landscape in future 6G wireless systems.
A. New 6G Requirements
Future 6G applications will pose stringent requirements
and require extended network capabilities compared to cur-
rently developed 5G networks [1]. These requirements are
summarized in Figure 2. They are established to enable the
wide range of key 6G use cases and thus can be categorized
accordingly. They also have major implications on how 6G
security is implemented. For Enhanced Ultra-Reliable, Low-
Latency Communication (ERLLC/eURLLC), the latency im-
pact of security workflows will be considered to ensure service
quality. Similarly, high reliability requirements call for very
efficient security solutions protecting availability of services
and resources. With Further enhanced Mobile Broadband
(FeMBB), extreme data rates will pose challenges regarding
traffic processing for security such as attack detection, AI/ML
pipelines, traffic analysis and pervasive encryption. That issue
can be alleviated with distributed security solutions since
traffic should be processed locally and on-the-fly in different
segments of the network, ranging from the edge to the core
service cloud. At this point, DLT will be instrumental with
transparency, security and redundancy attributes. Ultra massive
Machine Type Communication (umMTC) will serve critical
use-cases which impose much more stringent security require-
ments compared to 5G. In particular, Internet of Everything
(IoE) with very diverse capabilities will challenge the deploy-
ment and operation of security solutions such as distributed
AI/ML and privacy concerns. An important aspect is how to
integrate novel security enablers in an abundance of resource
constrained devices. Nevertheless, the security enforcement
will be more complex since network entities will be much
more mobile, changing their edge networks frequently and
getting services in different administrative domains.
B. New Architecture
1) Intelligence radio: State-of-the-art circuits, antennas,
meta-material-based structures, and the dramatic improvement
of AI chips have shed light on a paradigm-shift for hardware
Fig. 1: Evolution of communication network security landscape.
Latency 0.1 - 0.01 ms
Peak data rate > 1 Tbps
Mobility 1000 km/h
Area traffic capacity 1 Gb/m2
Intelligence Network
Management
Edge Intelligence
Intelligence Radio
FeMBB umMTC
eURLLC
6G
Industry 5.0
UAV based mobility
Connected Autonomous
Vehicles (CAV)
Smart Grid 2.0
Collaborative robots
Hyper-intelligent healthcare
Digital twin
Extended Reality
6G Architecture
6G Applications 6G Requirements
- AI
- DLT
- Quantum communication
- THz bands
- VLC
6G Technologies
New security requirements
New stakeholders
New attackers
Attacks on 6G architecture
(AI compromises, physical
attacks, physical layer
attacks, ...)
Attacks on key 6G
technologies (poisoning
attacks, eavesdropping, ...)
Fig. 2: 6G landscape and security composition.
architecture of 6G transceivers, where hardware can be sepa-
rated from the transceiver algorithms. Hence, the transceiver
algorithms could dynamically configure and update themselves
based on environment and hardware information. Intelligent
radio will involve cutting-edge AI/ML techniques in order
to address accurate channel modeling, agile physical layer
design, dynamic spectrum access, advanced network deploy-
ment, optimization, and autonomous orchestration issues in the
wireless domain [1]. Thus, suspicious activities by malicious
nodes need to be predicted during communication processes
for secure radios [3].
2) Edge Intelligence: When AI/ML algorithms are used to
acquire, storage or process data at the network edge, it is
referred to as edge intelligence (EI) [4]. In EI, an edge server
aggregates data generated by multiple devices associated with
it while sharing them with other edge servers for training
models, and later used for analysis and prediction, thus devices
can benefit from faster feedback, reduced latency and lower
costs while enhancing their operation. However, as data is
gathered from multiple sources, and the outcome of AI/ML
algorithms is highly data-dependent, EI is highly prone to
several security attacks. Attackers can exploit this dependency
to launch different attacks like data poisoning/evasion or
privacy violations, thus affecting the outputs of the AI/ML
applications and undermining the benefits of EI.
3) Intelligence Network Management: The extreme range
of 6G requirements and the envisioned full end-to-end (E2E)
automation of network and service management (i.e., use of
AI) demand a radical change in network service orchestration
and management in 6G architecture [5], [6]. ETSI ZSM (Zero-
touch network and Service Management) [7] architecture for
5G is a promising initiative to pave the path towards this
intelligence network management deployment.
Several security challenges have been identified in such
intelligence network management deployments. First, closed
loop network automation may introduce security threats such
as Denial of Service (DoS), deception and Man-In-The-
Middle (MITM) attacks [8]. DoS attacks can be performed by
gradually adding fake heavy load in virtual network functions
(VNFs) to increase the capacity of virtual machines (VMs).
MITM attacks can be performed by triggering fake fault events
and intercepting the domain control messages to reroute traffic
via malicious devices. Deception attacks can be performed
by tampering the transmitted data. Secondly, if 6G networks
use Intent-Based Interfaces similar to ZSM which can be
vulnerable for information exposure, undesirable configura-
tion and abnormal behavior attacks can occur. Intercepting
information of intents by unauthorized entities can also harm
system security objectives (e.g., privacy, confidentiality) and
lead to further subsequent attacks. Undesirable configuration
in Intent-Based Interfaces such as changing the mapping from
intent to action or decreasing the security level can jeopardize
the security of the whole management system. A malformed
intent could also have similar effects.
C. New Applications
6G will be the key communication infrastructure to sat-
isfy the demands of future needs of hyper-connected human
society by 2030 and beyond. It is foreseen that 6G paves
the way to the development of many new technologies such
as smart surfaces, zero-energy IoT devices, advanced AI
techniques, possible quantum computing systems, AI-powered
automated devices, AI-driven air interfaces, humanoid robots,
and self-sustained networks [1]. Moreover, the future trends
of digital societies such as massive availability of small data,
increasing elderly population, convergence of communica-
tion, sensing, and computing, gadget-free communication will
also demand new applications. The key 6G applications are
identified as UAV based mobility, Connected Autonomous
Vehicles (CAV), Smart Grid 2.0, Collaborative Robots, Hyper-
Intelligent Healthcare, Industry 5.0, Digital Twin and Extended
Reality [9]. The given applications may accommodate differ-
ent stakeholders and demand different levels of 6G security
requirements. Due to the novelty of these application domains
and the powerful attackers, the security requirements and the
challenges may hugely vary in 6G rather than in 5G (Table I).
D. Privacy
Privacy protection is a basic performance requirement and a
key feature in wireless communications in the envisioned era
of 6G [3], [10], which poses three key challenges:
The extremely large number of small chunks of data
exchanges in 6G may impose a greater threat on peoples’
privacy with an extensive attention attracted by govern-
mental and other business entities. The easier the data
is accessible and collectable in 6G era, the greater risk
they may impose on protecting user privacy and causing
regulatory difficulties.
When the intelligence is moving to the edge of the
network, more sophisticated applications will run on
mobile devices increasing the threats of attacks. However,
incorporating privacy protecting mechanisms in resource-
constrained devices will be challenging.
Keeping balance between maintaining the performance of
high-accurate services and the protection of user privacy
is noteworthy. Location information and identities are
needed to realize many smart applications. This requires
careful consideration of data access rights and ownership,
supervision and regulations for protecting privacy.
AI and machine learning (ML) technologies show a greater
impact on privacy in two ways [10]. In one way, the correct
application of ML can enhance privacy in 6G, whereas in
another way privacy violations may occur on ML attacks. The
privacy attacks on ML models can be occurred on training
(e.g., poisoning attack) and testing phases (e.g., reverse, mem-
bership interference, adversarial attacks).
E. New Technologies and Threat Landscapes
Considering the above technological, architectural and ap-
plication specific aspects of the future 6G networks, they
may encounter a wide range of security challenges as threat
landscapes. Since the attacks can be generalized based on
the technologies rather than the applications, we are taking
this step forward to give the reader an insight about the
most novel and specific attacks in 6G technologies (Table II).
The advent and advancements of technologies may also pave
the way to generate more powerful attackers who can create
sophisticated attacks on different parts of 6G architecture. In
addition to the attacks in Table II, each technology may also
face many variants of well-known attacks such as Distributed
DoS, MITM, sybil, scanning and spoofing attacks.
TABLE I: 6G Applications: Security requirement and Possible Challenges.
Security Requirements Expected Security and Implantation Challenges
Potential 6G Applications
Ultra Lightweight Security
Extremely Low latency
Extreme Scalability
Zero-touch Security
High Privacy
Proactive Security
Security via Edge
Domain specific security
Limited resources
Diversity of Devices
High Mobility
Physical Tempering
Terrorist Attacks
Intermittent Connectivity
Localized environment
Lack of Security Standards
E2E Security orchestration
Energy Efficiency
UAV based mobility M H H H L M H L H M H M H L L L H H
Connected Autonomous Vehicles L H H H M H H H L M H M H L L L H M
Smart Grid 2.0 H L H M M H L H H L L H H H L L L M
Collaborative Robots M H M H L L H H M L M M L L H L M M
Hyper-Intelligent Healthcare H H H M H M H H H H M M L M H M H H
Industry 5.0 M H H H L H H H H H M L M L H M H H
Extended Reality H H H M H L H L H M M H L L L H H H
LLow Level Requirement/Impact MMedium Level Requirement/Impact HHigh Level Requirement/Impact
TABLE II: Security threats and key 6G technologies.
Key Tech. Security Threat Description
AI Poisonous attacks Training data tampering via intentionally prepared malicious samples (e.g., manipulation of labelled data or weak
labelling), and thus influencing the learning outcomes and leading to misclassification and wrong regression
outcomes
Evasion attacks Target the test phase by attempting to circumvent the learned model by injecting disorders to the test data.
ML API-based Attacks When an adversary queries and attack an API of a ML model to obtain predictions on input feature vectors. This
may include model inversion (recover training data), model extraction (reveal model architecture compromising
model confidentiality) and membership inference (exploit model output to predict on training data and ML model)
attacks.
Infrastructure physical
attacks & communica-
tion tampering
Intentional outages and impairments in the communication and computational infrastructure lead to impairments
in decision-making/data processing and may even put entire AI systems offline.
Compromise of AI
frameworks
Most AI solutions utilize existing AI/ML frameworks. Vulnerabilities in those artefacts or traditional attack vectors
towards their software, firmware and hardware environments (especially, cloud-centric operation) target integrity
of AI/ML functions.
DLT The eclipse attack pos-
sibility
When blockchain node communications are disrupted or disseminated, it may end up accepting false information
that may result in the confirmation of fake transactions.
Centralization of min-
ers (51% Attack)
Cybercriminals compromise public blockchain applications and acquire or gain control over at least 51% of its
mining power, they will be able to manipulate the blockchain.
End-user vulnerabili-
ties
Individuals can lose or misplace their private keys, compromising their blockchain stored assets (e.g., identity theft,
malware, phishing attacks.).
Software Vulnerability When certain DLT projects deploy inadequately tested code on live blockchains, the vulnerabilities and bugs can
be detrimental to the decentralized model of many blockchain solutions.
Quantum
Comm.
Quantum cloning at-
tack
Take a random quantum state of an information and make an exact copy without altering the original state of the
information.
Quantum collision at-
tack
A quantum collision attack occurs when two different inputs of a hash function provide the same output in a
quantum setting.
THz Access control attacks Adversaries break access controls, steal data or user credentials in order to access unauthorized resources or modify
system parameters.
Eavesdropping Although transmissions with high directionality in narrow beams are robust to interception attacks, there is still a
possibility for malicious nodes intercepting the signal
VLC Eavesdropping As vulnerable as RF when nodes are deployed in public areas and/or the presence of large windows in the coverage
areas, and in presence of cooperating eavesdroppers. Also, high throughput indoor VLC systems.
Jamming or data mod-
ification attacks
In VLC or hybrid VLC-RF systems, malicious transmitters can pass undetected. Highly directed transmitter, such
as by using optical beamforming techniques, increases the successful attack probability.
III. TECHNOLOGIES AND SECURITY CONSIDERATIONS
This section discusses 6G technologies and the related
security issues/ solutions(i.e., current and future work).
A. Distributed and Scalable AI/ML security
6G envisions autonomous networks which will perform
Self-X (self-configuration, self-monitoring, self-healing and
self-optimization) without minimal human involvement [11].
The ongoing specification efforts to integrate AI/ML as a
native element in future networks such as ETSI ZSM ar-
chitecture entailing closed-loop operation and AI/ML tech-
niques with pervasive automation of network management
operations including security are important steps towards that
goal [7]. Since the pervasive use of AI/ML will be realized
in a distributed and large-scale system for various use cases
including network management, distributed AI/ML techniques
are supposed to enforce rapid control and analytics on the
extremely large amount of generated data in 6G networks.
In 6G, AI/ML will be spatially pushed closer to the source
of data-of-interest for ultra-low latency while distributing ML
functions over the network to attain performance gains due to
optimized models and ensemble decision making. However,
overcoming practical constraints of some network elements
(e.g., IoT) such as computational shortcomings and intermit-
tent connectivity is an open challenge [4].
Distributed AI/ML can be used for security for different
phases of cybersecurity protection and defense in 6G. The
utility of AI/ML driven cybersecurity lies on the advantages in
terms of autonomy, higher accuracy and predictive capabilities
for security analytics. Nevertheless, there are also difficult
challenges for the pervasive use of AI/ML from the cybersecu-
rity aspect, either as cybersecurity enabler or a technique that
may lead to security issues under certain circumstances [12]:
- Trustworthiness An eager reliance on AI/ML in future
networks raises an evident question: Are ML components
trustworthy? This is a more important issue when critical
network functions including security are AI-controlled. For
this purpose, trusted computing enablers, formal verification
techniques and integrity checks are important tools.
- Visibility For controllability and accountability, visibility
is crucial. Security experts and monitoring require clear and
intelligible insight into AI based schemes, more than black-
box operation. A research question is how to timely monitor
for security-violating AI incidents.
- AI ethics and liability Once AI/ML is integrated into
6G security, one question becomes fairness and ethical AI:
Does AI based optimization starve some users or applications?
Specifically, for security, the question becomes whether AI
driven security solutions protect all users the same. Another
vague point is Who is liable if AI controlled security functions
fail. Liability management is a complicated task with au-
tonomous entities operating in an ICT environment, including
6G security operations.
- Scalability and feasibility For distributed ML setups such
as federated learning, data transmissions should be secured
and preserve privacy. For AI/ML controlled security functions,
scalability is challenging in terms of required computation,
communication and storage resources. For instance, FeMBB
leads to huge data flows. Integrated with AI/ML based security
controls, these flows may cause significant overhead.
- Model and data resilience Models should be secured
and robust in the learning and inference phases (e.g., against
poisoning attacks). Blockchain is a potential remedy for a dis-
tributed, transparent and secure data sharing framework [13].
- Privacy Different ML techniques (e.g., neural networks,
deep learning, supervised learning) can be applied for privacy
protection in terms of data, image, location, and communica-
tion (e.g., Android, intelligent vehicles, IoT).
B. Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT)
As a DLT, recently Blockchain has gained the highest
attention in the telecommunication industry. The added advan-
tages of DLTs such as disintermediation, immutability, non-
repudiation, proof of provenance, integrity and pseudonymity
are particularly important to enable different services in 6G
networks with trust and security [14]. The use of AI/ML,
and other data analytic technologies, can be a source for
new attack vectors (e.g., poisoning attacks in training phase,
evasion attacks in testing phase) [15]. Since data is the
facilitator of AI algorithms, it is crucial to ensure their integrity
and provenance from the trusted sources [16]. DLT has the
potential of protecting the integrity of AI data via immutable
records and distributed trust between different stakeholders,
by enabling the confidence in AI-driven systems in a multi-
tenant/multi-domain environment.
While trust provides the needed confidence for users for
adopting autonomic AI based security management systems
in 6G networks, it may not prevent their breach and failure
in AI based systems. Thus, to prevent the failure of AI
systems, liability and the responsibility should be carefully
addressed. Therefore, trust with liability are complementing
to ensure E2E secured service delivery in 6G networks. DLT
based Smart contracts can be utilized to define Trust Level
Agreement (TLA) [17] and liability of each party or between
components in case of TLA violations.
Furthermore, in order to support the role of DLT/blockchain
to comply with 6G requirements, most of the current 5G
service models need to be significantly evolved. For instance
DLT can be used in secure VNF management, secure slice
brokering, automated Security SLA management, scalable
IoT PKI management, and secure roaming and offloading
handling [14]. Blockchain is also a key candidate for pri-
vacy preservation in content-centric 6G networks. Having a
common communication channel in blockchain may allow
network users to be identified by pseudo names instead of
direct personal identities or location information.
C. Quantum security
Quantum computing is envisioned to use in 6G commu-
nication networks for detection, mitigation and prevention of
security vulnerabilities. Quantum computing assisted commu-
nication is a novel research area that investigates the possi-
bilities of replacing quantum channels with noiseless classical
communication channels to achieve extremely high reliability
in 6G. With the advancements of quantum computing, it is
foreseen that quantum-safe cryptography should be introduced
in the post-quantum world. The discrete logrithmic problem,
which is the basis of current asymmetric cryptography, may
become solvable in polynomial time with the development of
quantum algorithms (e.g., Shor) [18].
Since quantum computing tends to use the quantum nature
of information, it may intrinsically provide absolute random-
ness and security to improve the transmission quality [18].
Integrating post-quantum cryptography schemes with physical
layer security schemes may ensure secure 6G communication
links. Novel research eras may open up by introducing ML-
based cyber-security and quantum encryption in communi-
cation links in 6G networks. Quantum ML algorithms may
enhance security and privacy in communication networks with
the quantum improvements in supervised and unsupervised
learning for clustering and classification tasks. There are
promising 6G applications where there are potentials in ap-
plying quantum security mechanisms. For instance, many 6G
applications such as ocean communication, satellite communi-
cation, terrestrial wireless networks, and THz communications
systems have potentials of using quantum communication
protocols such as quantum key distribution (QKD) [19]. QKD
is applicable in the conventional key distribution schemes
by providing quantum mechanics to establish a secret key
between two legitimate parties.
D. Physical Layer Security (PLS)
Since security mechanisms are embedded in different layers
of a network, they can be used jointly across these layers
to implement redundant protection or in a subset of layers
for resource-constrained applications. PLS methods will be
leveraged by 6G to provide an adaptive additional layer of
protection in the context of new enabling technologies, as
discussed next.
1) TeraHertz (THz) technology: THz communication (1
GHz to 10 THz) is envisioned to be a key technology for
6G. In such frequencies, there exist an increased directionality
of transmitted signals that allows to confine unauthorized
users to be on the same narrow path of the legitimate user
for intercepting signals, thus offering stronger security at
the physical layer. However, the authors in [20] prove that
an eavesdropper can also intercept signals, in line-of-sight
(LoS) transmissions, by placing an object in the path of the
transmission to scatter radiation towards him. A countermea-
sure against this eavesdropping technique, which works by
characterizing the backscatter of the channel, was designed in
order to detect some, although not all, eavesdroppers. Indeed,
THz communications are prone to access control attacks,
malicious behavior, and data transmission exposure. Then, new
PLS solutions are required for secure THz transmissions, e.g.,
electromagnetic signature of materials and devices at THz
frequencies can be used for authentication methods [3].
2) Visible Light Communication (VLC) technology: VLC is
an optical wireless technology that has attracted high interest
due to its advantages compared to radio frequency (RF)
systems, such as high data rates, large available spectrum,
robustness against interference, and inherent security. VLC
systems can offer a higher level of security compared to
RF systems due to the fact that light cannot penetrate walls.
However, due to the broadcast nature and LoS propagation
of VLC systems, they are also vulnerable to eavesdropping
from unauthorized nodes located in the coverage area of trans-
mitters. Confidentiality of VLC systems is a crucial issue for
the design of practical VLC systems, where PLS techniques
can provide interesting solutions. For instance, the accurate
localization capabilities of VLC joint with ML techniques can
be used for anomaly detection [21].
3) Molecular communication (MC): In MC, bionanoma-
chines communicate using chemical signals or molecules in
an aqueous environment, thus being a promising technology
for 6G in many healthcare applications. However, MC tackles
highly sensitive information, with several security and privacy
challenges related to the communication, authentication and
encryption process, thus providing secure MC is imperative.
Therefore, the notion of biochemical cryptography was intro-
duced in [22], where a biological macro-molecule composition
and structure could be utilized as a medium to maintain
information integrity. In [23], the primary benefits and limits
of PLS in diffusion-based channels are investigated, where the
secrecy capacity is derived to obtain insights on the number
of secure symbols a diffusion-based channel can afford.
IV. CONCLUSION
This paper summarized the envisioned main requirements,
paradigms, new architectural challenges, new applications, and
enabling technologies that are expected to shape the future
generation of wireless networks, 6G, from the perspective of
the security and privacy challenges. Herein, we provided our
vision on the new threat landscape expected for these networks
as well as the promising security solutions and technologies
that have the potential to evolve and be part of a holistic
solution to protect 6G networks. However, as the specifications
of 6G networks have not yet been defined, there is not adequate
literature to support very insightful discussions. In future,
we intend to make a more detailed survey to investigate the
security and privacy aspects of 6G and related technologies.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT
This work is supported by 6Genesis Flagship (grant 318927)
and 5GEAR projects. The research leading to these results
partly received funding from European Union’s Horizon 2020
research and innovation programme under grant agreement no
871808 (5G PPP project INSPIRE-5Gplus). The paper reflects
only the authors’ views. The Commission is not responsible
for any use that may be made of the information it contains.
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