Since Facebook rebranded as Meta last year, the metaverse has become a familiar household name. It is described as a world where our avatars will play, work, shop, socialize, and analyze in a mixed reality environment.
Jean Lawrence is VP of Marketing & Communications at Nokia Cloud & Network Services.
Gartner predicts that 25% of people will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse by 2026. Companies ranging from start-ups to established brands want to capitalize on this opportunity, and there are three dimensions to the metaverse to consider: consumer, enterprise, and industrial.
Facets of the metaverse
In the consumer metaverse, a digital twin will be able to try on and buy new running shoes, compete in a marathon in exotic distant cities with world-class athletes, and experience all the sights, sounds, and feelings of that experience. In the enterprise metaverse, we will be able to extend today’s hybrid work environments to truly immersive collaboration by interacting with colleagues who live all over the world. We will be able to join an XR conference room and meet with avatars of leaders of R&D, testing and marketing teams as though we were physically together.
And in the industrial metaverse, for example, an enterprise’s manufacturing sites will be equipped with digital twins and advanced robotics that can simulate scenarios and react in real-time to production needs. In all these scenarios, they will be able to have rich experiences that result in greater productivity, safety and enjoyment without incurring the expenses, risks and delays that exist in the purely physical world.
Depending on the situation, there will need to be a combination of ubiquitous and reliable connectivity, very high bandwidth, super low lag time, and very high security. Additionally, by its very nature, the metaverse will bring unpredictable spikes in demand and requirements for extreme flexibility to accommodate spontaneous crowd gatherings, large virtual sales events, or production surges.
The need for ubiquitous and reliable connectivity
Dynamic, low-latency, high-bandwidth connectivity enables sophisticated XR-based metaverse applications in the core and transport networks, but especially at the network edge, close to where metaverse users are. 5G is meant to deliver higher multi-GBPS peak data speeds, ultra-low latency, more reliability, massive network capacity, increased availability and a consistent experience for more users. As networks become more decentralized, they must also become increasingly available on-demand.
SaaS is critical to immersive metaverse experiences. Based on cloud-native software, SaaS ensures a highly reliable and scalable service focused on delivering business outcomes including increased profitability. Mature SaaS services are ordered, provisioned and managed by automation software, eliminating often-tedious manual procedures. 5G provides a foundation for pervasive high-bandwidth connectivity, however, delivering immersive realities to an unlimited number of users in multiple locations requires more than today’s 5G. The metaverse experience requires purpose-built networks that can be spun up whenever and wherever they’re needed and follow users wherever they go.
On-demand networks are evolving
Many of today’s 5G use cases need robust edge computing solutions due to low-latency requirements, although bandwidth utilization is largely predictable. In contrast, bandwidth utilization in the metaverse environment is expected to be far less predictable. Future use cases will rely on the ability to create network capacity immediately, a capability that requires SaaS to avoid unnecessary network overbuild and over-provisioning. Initially, on-demand networking use cases enabled by SaaS services will be straightforward, focusing on augmented network operations and enabling quick access to environments for such development, testing, and disaster recovery. Advanced use cases will support mobile virtual network operator (MVNO)-as-a-service, and connectivity to specific locations for time-limited special events or crisis responses in the wake of geopolitical conflict or a natural disaster.
While the metaverse may be the next big thing in technology, it still has a long way to go before it becomes mainstream among public audiences. Without acceptance and adoption, the metaverse won’t positively impact people, and will be relegated to an “interesting concept” or a “science experiment.” The metaverse needs to go beyond VR in gaming to use cases that affect personal and professional decisions, influence behavior and ultimately improve our lives. Extended XR immersive and wireless devices are needed to complete the human-computer interface for the metaverse, and the cost of entry is high. Plenty of other entry barriers like political, cultural and privacy challenges could slow metaverse platforms down.
What about the technology?
We’ve all heard that 5G isn’t just another generation of wireless networks, but a catalyst for significantly better performance at the edge that has long been hindered by fixed broadband. Without that 5G-driven edge performance boost, immersive metaverse experiences won’t be possible. How widespread the rollout will be, and how quickly the industry will adopt a new network remains to be seen.
Looking at the future, instant network services and networks that are available on demand via SaaS will be key requirements to deliver a true metaverse experience. SaaS is the metaverse acceleration engine. The metaverse implies a dynamic experience. In a world where change is constant, a combination of networks-on-demand enabled by SaaS gives rise to real-world XR experiences of the future where the experience is instantaneous.
Given the pace and scale of demand, the classic approach to building a network will not deliver the lower total cost of ownership (TCO) or faster time to value that allows CSPs to monetize operations in digital time. As more machines are software-enabled, SaaS empowers dynamic networks on demand, complementing traditional networks and unlocking the future metaverse experience. With SaaS as the acceleration engine, CSPs and enterprises will realize the full potential of 5G and monetize operations in new ways that deliver unmatched customer experiences. The metaverse can also then become accessible from anywhere that a cloud network exists. As end users connect instantly, the network will move with the user, adapting seamlessly to deliver a consistent XR experience across boundaries separating one CSPs service region from another.
With cloud-native technologies fast becoming the industry standard and as-a-service consumption models widely accepted, the stage is set for a paradigm shift. While we wait for the metaverse to come of age, CSPs can use SaaS to reinvent their business models and markets, unlocking lower total cost of ownership and faster time to value.
Users of enterprise software have long embraced the SaaS model for everything from accounting to e-commerce to call center software. Likewise, as consumers, we are using SaaS when we subscribe to tax software that renews annually or a program that tracks our calorie consumption. SaaS is coming to the telecom industry and supporting core functions that enable network operations, security, and analytics.
Known as telecom SaaS, CSPs are beginning to adopt it and are realizing the benefits of much greater flexibility to spin services up and down quickly, speed to launch new services to capitalize on new opportunities and lower TCO. That said, it comes with much stricter requirements than enterprise or IT SaaS. When an IT SaaS service goes off the grid, users may temporarily lose access to their payroll application, but telecom SaaS is the grid and must have extreme levels of reliability to ensure that everything in our modern, digital, and virtual lives continue to run.
Telecom SaaS is also the foundation to a future of programmable networking, a coming capability that will allow software developers to build new applications as natural extensions of underlying network services. Armed with these tools, CSPs will remain key players in the value chains of a rapidly evolving ecosystem.
The interconnection between the metaverse, 5G, and telecom SaaS
The metaverse – consumer, enterprise and industrial – can only become a reality with the power of 5G and telecom SaaS. Service providers are actively building out 5G networks all over the world. Telecom SaaS will enable the rapid, on-demand ramp-up needed to provide immersive metaverse experiences while preventing the problematic economics of overbuilding networks to permanently satisfy maximum demand that is only sporadically needed. CSPs who embrace the confluence of SaaS and 5G will position themselves to monetize a wide array of consumer, enterprise, and industrial experiences in an agile and financially advantageous way. The metaverse awaits: are you ready?