It’s hard to avoid the term metaverse these days. But the truth is, to reach its full potential, the 5G metaverse relationship will be key.
Metaverse in 5G
In general, 5G and telecoms have come a long way. What used to be purely about connectivity has evolved over the years into a vibrant ecosystem composed of vendors, service providers, device OEMs, cloud hyperscalers and application developers. This is because wireless is both complex and exciting.
In the context of the metaverse, many features and requirements which go beyond pure connectivity need to be addressed. We have summarized a non-exhaustive list in Table 1, comprising ubiquitous access, accessible XR devices, edge-cloud capabilities, pertinent standards, and ease of use for the developer community.
|Metaverse Needs and Features||How the 5G ecosystem addresses the needs|
|Ubiquitous access to all multi-verses that form the metaverse. Lightweight and accessible XR devices to experience the metaverse||Consistent coverage, capacity and mobile supportSeamless handovers, e.g. to/from WIFIGlobal reach and roaming|
|Lightweight devices||Low latency and reliable communication to offload more to edge rendering/edge streamingAccess to edge compute with high throughput and low latency|
|Cloud and Edge-Cloud (MEC) capabilities||Low LatencyOffload processes to save battery lifeEnhancing render level of detail (LOD)|
|Standardised Interfaces||Telecom StandardsHaptic, Holographic and XR standardsMetaverse Standards|
|Easy access to communication for developers||APIs to give developers access to 5G as a “Development Platform”Easy bind-in of APIs/SDKs into available developer platformsEasy bind of the APIs into business logic|
In terms of ubiquitous access, there are numerous wireless connectivity technologies today: the most popular being Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cellular technologies. Bluetooth lacks range, rate and reliability. Current generations of Wi-Fi offer the required rate but suffer from congestion and thus high latencies once several XR devices are connected simultaneously; Wi-Fi 7 promises to address the congestion issue but is nowhere near the range and global coverage offered by cellular technologies. Also, it does not offer any Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that can be provided using 5G’s emerging slicing concepts which is vital for many enterprise applications.
5G offers rate, range, reliability, latency and so much more. Indeed, the average DL/UL data rates provided by 5G today are 200Mbps/30Mbps per user. Depending on the choice of the scheduler, radio bearer configurations and radio conditions, the achievable latencies are in the order of 10ms for the frequency range 1 (FR1, i.e., below 6GHz) and 5ms for FR2 (above 24GHz, i.e., mm-wave bands). Reliability can today be in the order of 99.99 per cent with five to six nines of reliability achievable over the coming years.
While the above are exciting developments, important technological challenges still need to be solved before the metaverse can reach prime time. One issue stands out: privacy. Indeed, while many privacy challenges are being addressed in telecom standards, we have not solved privacy at the application level. Imagine the challenges ahead of us when it comes to privacy in the metaverse. Who will protect our children from harmful content or harmful immersive experiences? Who will ensure that your physical identity behind your avatar in the metaverse is protected at all times? Who will ensure that we won’t become the by-product of endless advertising?
Many non-technical issues also remain. For instance, the excitement around the metaverse does not match the pace of the underpinning standards; it is not only the communications standards that are important, but we urgently need haptic/XR/codec and metaverse interoperability standards. Another issue is around the lack of metaverse content, which typically goes hand in hand with a sustainable ecosystem consistently providing avatars, NFTs, educational content, and so on. Other issues persist around business models, regulation, and net neutrality.
Last but not least, if we believe the metaverse will reflect an augmented social fabric in a virtual world, we should sculpt it according to our ethical beliefs. We ought to subscribe to some form of social norms and a decentralized body overseeing these norms. We ought to ensure security and uphold privacy. We need to make sure that the metaverse cannot be weaponized for national or international conflicts. In simple terms, we need to think this through and ought to avoid building a house of cards – the stakes are simply too high.
It is clear that the metaverse requires highly reliable, high throughput and bounded latency networks that are significantly more demanding than the current best effort services for mobile broadband. 5G is ready to deliver that but challenges remain in-network densifications, spectrum availability, indoor/outdoor capacity increase and co-existence between mobile broadband (MBB), mission-critical communications (MCC) and XR services in wide area networks.
Ericsson’s current 5G RAN portfolio is an important step towards realizing the metaverse. It is equipped with software toolboxes such as Time-Critical Communication on top of best-in-class hardware to provide an unbeatable experience for bounded latency, and highly reliable real-time services such as XR. Many of the features are available today and many more will be introduced as we progress into further 3GPP releases.
Providing cutting-edge networks, however, is not enough. All ecosystem players need to come together and strategically contribute to a coherent R&D and standardization roadmap. Without such tight cooperation, the Metaverse may not happen for years to come. Telperium Labs is playing its role in the ecosystem by enabling the metaverse over 5G and other platforms.