The metaverse will never move beyond our living rooms without a powerful network
There is a lot of discussion of the metaverse lately, and that excitement is well warranted. The metaverse will create immersive virtual worlds we can work in, interact with and even escape to. This virtual reality (VR) aspect of the metaverse has become the dominant vision for the metaverse. I will admit it is a powerful vision, but I also think it is limited one.
The VR metaverse assumes we want to abandon our physical surroundings and dive into an entirely digital reality. While we may be traveling to far-off virtual worlds, our presence in the physical universe is locked to a single location, usually indoors and tethered to a WiFi or wireline connection.
Nokia is among the companies that believes in a metaverse that isn’t confined to virtual constructs. We believe in a bigger metaverse, one that truly fuses our digital and physical realities, rather than supplants one for the other. This metaverse will bring extended reality (XR) experiences to the world outside our homes and offices. It will embrace mobility and support a nearly unlimited number of users. And it will be equally at home in the consumer, enterprise and industrial realms. This metaverse, or these metaverses, will be built on highly detailed digital twins of the physical and human worlds. Every user can choose to interact with these digital twins, seeing their physical actions reflected in the digital world and their virtual actions reflected in the physical world. The metaverse would allow us to augment our human selves, extending our senses and enhancing our physical capabilities.
Rather than throw yourself into the latest FIFA VR game on your sofa, you could create an XR football match on the fly at any location of your choosing. With only a ball, a group of friends in an empty field could don XR glasses and see the touchlines and goalposts of a regulation pitch materialize before their eyes. Team colors would be superimposed over each player’s regular clothing so the sides could tell each other apart. An AI referee, rendered as a 3D avatar, would call fouls, judge offsides and keep score. What if you were a player short of an 11-man team? Well, the XR application could generate the extra teammate. A goalie avatar may not be able to physically touch the ball, but the virtual overlay of the action would show an ill-timed shot on goal landing in the goalie’s hands.
The use cases for the consumer metaverse are certainly compelling, but vertical industries are where we see the metaverse’s greatest potential. For instance, the industrial metaverse will free city planners from the drafting room. Roaming the streets with XR glasses, a planner could identify problematic intersections in the physical world and instantly redesign them in the virtual world. Looking at the intersection through this XR lens, the planner would immediately see how moving a bus stop or adding a traffic light would impact traffic. Such decisions wouldn’t be made in isolation. Proposals for individual changes would be aggregated and uploaded into a city-wide digital twin, allowing central planning to see the collective impact of thousands of small projects on the transportation patterns of the entire metro area. Once construction is authorized, building crews would return to the digital twin, using XR to guide them in the exact placement of stoplights and crosswalks. Meanwhile curious pedestrians passing by the worksite need only tap their own XR glasses to see the finished project superimposed over their fields of vision.
These are just two examples of the metaverse we at Nokia envision, but there are countless more. Now let’s talk about how we get there.
The power of the network
To achieve this broader concept of the metaverse we will need a bevy of new innovations. We will need new, affordable devices in small form factors. We will need powerful compute capabilities, highly distributed software systems, sophisticated content creation tools and innovative new services that can take advantage of the metaverse’s full potential. We will require technologies that can not only sense and understand the physical world but comprehend how humans interact with their digital and physical realities.
Nokia is conducting multiple lines of research into several of these technologies, but one of the key pieces to the metaverse puzzle is an area Nokia is already well acquainted with. To build the bigger metaverse requires connectivity. We need robust, flexible and extremely powerful networks. We need significant advances in latency, bandwidth and speed. We have already laid the connectivity foundation with 5G, but to reach the full potential of the metaverse requires a networking journey over the next 10 years.
Today 5G serves as a powerful preamble for the metaverse, supporting many initial industrial AR use cases with specialized headsets and consumer AR applications over smartphones. But when the first 5G-Advanced deployments start in 2025, the metaverse’s reach will increase dramatically. With 5G-Advanced we will first start realizing XR. New edge processing capabilities will offload some device functionalities to the network, which will in turn allow for small-form-factor XR goggles and glasses, as opposed to impractical head-mounted units. This will untether the metaverse from indoor settings. More uplink bandwidth and better latency will mean more immersive, near-photorealistic visual overlays and more responsive interactions. Overall capacity improvements and application-aware quality-of-service and quality-of-experience enhancements will support large volumes of simultaneous XR users. Furthermore, we will be able to map larger and more sophisticated digital twins as 5G-Advanced location and timing capabilities and other sensing technologies provide the positioning and synchronization anchors for XR.
We expect that industry will take full advantage of these 5G-Advanced capabilities starting in 2025, combining these new sophisticated devices with private networks, but it will take several years before affordable consumer devices emerge. The consumer XR adoption will come, but it will lag the industrial and enterprise XR adoption.
Beginning in 2030, our vision for the larger metaverse merges with our vision for the 6G era. Instead of applying a virtual overlay to the physical world, 6G will allow us to directly manipulate the physical world through digital means – in essence allowing human beings to augment themselves. 6G will bring greater network intelligence and application awareness, while greatly boosting uplink capacity and reducing latency. This will create the most immersive holographic metaverse realities, which can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users.
By 2030, XR will have become ingrained in industry and enterprise, and we will witness the beginning of the consumer XR revolution. Affordable and lightweight glasses will be produced in volume along with a range of augmenting devices that will link our digital and physical worlds. The metaverse will also grow in scope, scale and immediacy. New 6G sensing capabilities will allow the network to create digital twins of nearly every physical aspect of the world in real-time.
In short, we see the 6G era as a convergence point where we inseparably fuse our digital and physical lives together.
Let’s build this metaverse together
The move to this bigger metaverse is an unprecedented opportunity for the connectivity industry and a boon for society. For it to be successful, it must be built on a foundation of openness and interoperability, it must be safe and secure, it must be ecologically sustainable, and it must be inclusive, allowing access to as many people as possible.
Nokia’s expertise in end-to-end networking, its leadership in standards and its cutting-edge research in multiple fields make it well positioned to build the underlying infrastructure of the metaverse. But the metaverse is an enormous undertaking, requiring a global effort and ecosystem-wide collaboration. Nokia is actively looking for strategic partners to help us spur the necessary innovation along, so I invite anyone who shares our vision to work with us to make it possible.