The word metaverse is about to spread across the web. But in fact, to realize its full potential, it is necessary to understand the relationship between 5G and the metaverse.
In fact, we see 5G as a key enabler of the Metaverse and its ecosystem of device and application developers.
What is the Metaverse?
The term metaverse was born out of Neal Stephenson's 1992 science fiction novel Avalanche. The term hadn't caught on for decades until Facebook announced they were going big on a VR-powered metaverse virtual reality. The trillion-dollar Facebook parent company even changed its name to Meta. Since then, the Internet circle, equipment manufacturers and communication operators have all been excited.
The concept of the metaverse certainly doesn't belong to the Meta company alone. The metaverse has different meanings to different people. We refer here to several formal definitions of the metaverse, but more importantly, let's focus on 3 key elements behind these definitions.
First and foremost, the metaverse has a social element. It's not just a virtual space where people can spend time (and spend money), enjoy the comfort of being alone, or just hang out with some friends. More advanced, the Metaverse intends to create a unique social mechanism in human society in the virtual world. In this virtual world, you and/or your avatar can interact with other people, including eye contact, physical communication, and even handshakes and hugs.
Second, the metaverse has a strong virtual narrative. For some, the metaverse is a purely virtual world that we can enter and tour using VR goggles. For example, Fortnite can be played with VR glasses. For others, the metaverse also has important real-world manifestations—overlaying digital content into the real world through augmented reality or more interactive mixed reality technologies. Pokémon Go, for example, can be played through a phone or AR glasses. Regardless, as virtual content continues to increase, so does our experience and the way we socialize. We access virtual worlds and get haptic feedback without these 3D extended reality devices, as well as transitional 2D screens using WebXR technology.
Third, the metaverse is blessed with new technologies, such as Web 3.0, blockchain, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), 5G, digital twins, artificial intelligence, and XR devices... It is true that without these technologies, the metaverse It can also exist, but it is very difficult to upgrade and expand. More examples are given below, but let's dive into the elements of the metaverse first.
Metaverse VR and AR Devices
Before we talk about 5G and networking, let's talk about devices. Think of them as agents or teleportation points connecting the real world to the metaverse. At this stage, we have to interact with it with a keyboard and touch screen, and we have to learn how to do it first. From a user experience perspective, new metaverse devices allow users to interact more intuitively, making it easier to use digital content and information.
As agents connecting the two worlds, these devices should translate information from the real world to the virtual world, and at the same time translate information from the virtual world to the real world.
The translation of real-world information into the virtual world—that is, perceiving the real environment—is achieved through the large-scale sensor ecosystem that actually shapes the Internet of Things. And for the Metaverse, IoT technology relies on lidars, cameras, volumetric capture devices, haptic apparel and gloves, neural bracelets, and even Neuralink-like devices.
Translating information from the virtual world to the real world—that is, using content from the metaverse—is enabled by the large-scale ecosystem of VR, AR, and MR (they, along with haptic and other perceptual interaction technologies are often collectively referred to as XR). There are also holographic projection equipment.
VR refers to a spatially isolated computer-generated three-dimensional simulation of an environment that people can interact with in real-time using a head-mounted display device (HMD) and a game controller. VR devices have seen substantial growth in both the enterprise and consumer markets, with popular products including the Oculus Quest 2, Varjo VR-3, Playstation VR, Valve Index and HP Reverb G2.
In contrast, AR is based on the real world, viewing superimposed virtual content. Popular AR gadgets include our everyday smartphones, which can be implemented using apps with AR filters, such as Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. Dedicated AR devices include HoloLens 2, Lenovo's ThinkReality and Nreal. Also includes Mojo Vision and InWith, which can be used on AR contact lenses. It seems that the future of AR is not far away!
MR is to superimpose virtual content on the real world and interact in real time. We can even imagine a future in which people's actions in the virtual world could be "reprogrammed" by actuators in the real world. Ericsson's 6G research team has conceived a vision of the future, a programmable world, a space-time where virtuality and reality merge.
AR and MR require spatial consistency. If the user is moving in the real world, then the virtual overlay should be anchored in the real world. For example, if an AR/MR user walks away from a table in the real world, then the vase placed on the table in the virtual world should follow the principle of near big and far small.
VR first came about because it needed a limited amount of computing power to render environments in a controlled way. By now, computing power and optical technology have improved, so AR/MR technology will follow. These are the best technologies we currently have to support the social elements of the Metaverse.
Finally, holographic projection technology has also been gradually heating up in recent years, although it is not clear whether it will be fully realized. While traditional VR and AR render a three-dimensional world on a 2D surface, more advanced stereoscopic AR can also bring a holographic-like experience to the audience. The true holography technology uses the phase difference of light to reconstruct the 3D world. Such images would be sharper and more 3D, but producing consumer-grade phase-coherent optics is currently very difficult.
All of the above devices need to be comfortable to wear, lightweight, and affordable to inspire users. More importantly, they require high-performance, reliable and secure network connections. The goal is to move control tasks and computing tasks from the device to the edge. Devices need to have the lowest possible latency, and edge servers need to be able to render graphics in real-time and then send the data back to the headset, as easily as a video conference.
While the device ecosystem is still in its infancy, the XR ecosystem is already moving, using Boundless XR and CloudXR technologies. These multi-access edge computing (MEC) technologies help enable a more immersive user experience. VR glasses can display higher level of detail (LOD) content, while AR glasses can support more complex real-world interactions. Of course, these come at a price.
It is worth noting that the AR/VR device and the edge cloud server transmit data to each other within milliseconds. It is best to have a definite delay and a high data rate. Therefore, reliable, secure, and low-latency wireless connectivity is critical for XR devices. And the only technology that enables this kind of unlimited connectivity right now is 5G. So let's talk about 5G!
Network requirements: Support Metaverse with 5G
Overall, the development of 5G has not been short. In the past, the telecommunications industry only had to think about connectivity, and over the years, the telecommunications ecosystem has diversified, with various vendors, operators, OEMs, public cloud service providers and application developers. Because "wireless" is subtle and charming.
When it comes to anytime, anywhere access, there are a variety of wireless connectivity technologies. The most popular are Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cellular technologies. The limitations of Bluetooth are transmission range, speed and reliability. Current versions of Wi-Fi provide the required rates, but suffer from signal congestion. When multiple XR devices are connected at the same time, high latency will occur. Wi-Fi 7 will solve the congestion problem, but it is nowhere near as good as cellular technology in terms of transmission range and global coverage. At the same time, it does not offer a service level agreement (SLA), which 5G's network slicing can provide, which is required for many enterprise applications.
The benefits of 5G are not limited to transmission rate, range, reliability and latency. In fact, the current average downlink/uplink rate for 5G is 200Mbps/30Mbps per user. Depending on the choice of scheduler, radio bearer configuration and radio conditions, the achievable latency is between 10ms in frequency range 1 (FR1, i.e. below 6GHz) and 5ms in FR2 (above 24GHz, i.e. mm-band). Today, the reliability of 5G can reach 99.99%, and in the next few years, the reliability of 5 to 6 9s after the decimal point can be achieved.
The Metaverse requires a network with high reliability, high throughput, and deterministic latency. Today's best-effort mobile broadband services are not enough. 5G is ready, but still faces issues such as network density, spectrum availability, increased indoor/outdoor network capacity, and coexistence of WAN-wide Mobile Broadband (MBB), Mission Critical Communications (MCC) and XR services.
Ericsson's current 5G RAN product portfolio can effectively contribute to the development of the Metaverse. It includes various software toolboxes, such as Time-Critical Communication with best-in-class hardware, which can provide deterministic latency, high-reliability real-time services (such as XR services). At present, there are many functions that can be realized, and with the advancement of the 3GPP standard, we will launch more services in the future to help the development of the Metaverse.
It's not enough to just provide a high-quality network. Players in all ecosystems need to get involved and work together to develop a roadmap for R&D and standardization. Without close cooperation, the metaverse could not have taken shape in a few years, or even developed at all. Ericsson is playing its part in the ecosystem, supporting the development of the Metaverse by providing a 5G network (which will eventually be upgraded to a 6G network).
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