The metaverse and communication service providers
The metaverse is the “next big thing” that will drive the development of other technologies, from home networking to consumer products, applications, and networking equipment. The metaverse has the potential to change how business is conducted in the future. According to Gartner1, 25 percent of people will spend at least an hour a day in virtual shared spaces by 2026. Augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) headsets will play an important role in the metaverse experience, with their high-bandwidth and low-latency demands putting enormous pressure on home Wi-Fi networks. Recent data from IDC2 shows shipments of AR/VR headsets passed 11 million units in 2021. This represented a year on year worldwide market increase of 92 percent, and it’s forecast to grow another 47 percent in 2022.
Delivering ultra-broadband services for the metaverse
The immersive user experience of the metaverse requires high-responsiveness and high-bandwidth connectivity. A WBA industry report 20233 summarizes the bandwidth and latency requirements for various VR technologies. The target for extreme VR asks for 1-2.35 Gb/s with 10 ms latency. The broadband network and home network must be scalable to meet these requirements.
Source: WBA Industry report 20233
Increased deployment of 10G PON / 25G-PON networks and 5G fixed wireless access by communication service providers (CSP) enable the delivery of multi-gigabit broadband services. Meeting the latency requirements in the access and core network nodes requires active queue management techniques like PI2/L4S in addition to imposing other QoS policies.
Given that most of the metaverse will occur indoors, Wi-Fi will have a dominant role to play. It’s predicted to operate at “brain speed”, underlining the importance of the 6 GHz spectrum and driving demand for Wi-Fi 6E, Wi-Fi 7 and beyond. Wi-Fi performance will need to be predictable with low latency and low jitter, as well as sustainable throughput.
This means deploying “deterministic Wi-Fi” with high reliability and service assurance across every nook and corner of the home. New features being developed to reach greater determinism include:
- Policy-based wireless service level agreements (WSLA).
- Multi-link operation (MLO), a new feature proposed as part of the IEEE 802.11be Extremely High Throughput (EHT) amendment. With MLO, access points and stations will be able to transmit and receive data from the same traffic flow over multiple radio interfaces.
- Advanced mesh networking involving multiple access points coordinating at the PHY and MAC levels delivering deterministic service to connected clients.
- Beam forming and enhanced radio resource management to optimize the performance.
CSPs have an opportunity to deploy this whole-home deterministic Wi-Fi, expanding the service scope from the residential gateway to the whole-home network solution.
Another important piece of the puzzle is the need for edge computing so that content is cached close to the user and can, therefore, be delivered with reduced latency. This is key for extreme VR. CSPs can add computation and storage capacity near the access node (nearer the point of presence) and further caching can be enabled in residential gateways. Looking at the processor evolution in smartphones over recent years, we expect the same evolution in gateway processing capabilities, meaning residential gateways will also be used as edge computing devices. Gateways don’t have the power and form factor constraints of smartphones, which will further facilitate increasing the computation power and thereby enable deployment of various applications in the gateway.
Many residential gateways today support LXC (Linux containers) or similar variants enabling CSPs to deploy various applications. Currently these applications are limited to Wi-Fi management, diagnostics, etc., but CSPs can leverage the mature application development platform in their residential gateways to integrate with various metaverse platforms from the likes of Meta and Microsoft to enable caching in the gateway and enhance the user experience. If the metaverse is really going to become a distributed application without central control by major platform vendors, CSPs will play a crucial role by enabling that distributed architecture through their edge gateways.
In summary, delivering a virtual reality is not going to be an OTT play, like Netflix or YouTube. Rather, it will be a collaborative play between metaverse platform providers and CSPs to deliver an extreme VR with sufficient bandwidth and latency.
CSPs in the metaverse
Beyond providing the infrastructure to deliver the metaverse, let’s explore how CSPs can use the metaverse for their business expansion and operational efficiency.
- Services over the metaverse. CSPs can increase their service portfolio by creating assets in the metaverse and selling them as a service. One use case could be a virtual conference room for enterprises to conduct their meetings with a VR/AR experience. This kind of metaverse experience is perfect for remote meetings, multi-location training programs, and other events. CSPs are well placed to deliver such services, leveraging their edge computing resources and end-to-end QoS between various endpoints. This is just one example; as the metaverse proliferates, there could be many such service opportunities for CSPs.
- Metaverse operations. CSPs can set up a customer experience office within the metaverse to connect with customers and share a virtual experience of a product or service, or provide technical assistance. This enhances the customer experience from a simple chat or audio call to a personal interaction, without needing to visit an office or retail outlet. CSPs could use this opportunity to optimize their operational costs by saving on real estate.
If the metaverse evolves as projected, it will open up a huge opportunity for CSPs to play an active role and expand their business. Interesting times ahead…