This article was originally published by The Fast Mode
As hyped technologies go, the metaverse has probably topped most lists in 2022. Indeed, Google’s search analytics saw interest for the term explode in late 2021 – reaching the highest possible score of 100. Interest stayed high throughout 2022, making it into analysts’ top technology trends for 2023 and beyond. By fusing digital and physical worlds, the metaverse presents new ways to transport oneself to a virtual world, transforming the physical experience with immersive and interactive functionality that brings new opportunities and marketplaces to transact.
Let’s not get too excited just yet
In the spirit of transparency, we may be some way from the metaverse becoming commonplace in our everyday lives. Sceptics may note that similar ideas have been around since the Internet was first conceived (with consumer-oriented experiences like Second life or augmented reality games like Pokémon Go, and B2B oriented concepts like digital twins).
Regardless of when an integrated metaverse becomes widespread, the underlying trends are clear and the technologies that could enable it are maturing rapidly. Clearly, they will open new possibilities for real-time collaboration and virtual experiences. Still, its flood of data does present heightened demands on the network that must be addressed to bridge our physical and virtual lives.
Service providers must transform their networks now to maximize capacity, lower latency and become more scalable and diverse. Companies that continue to innovate their networks will be prepared to handle these requirements and make the metaverse a widespread reality. Through this emphasis on innovation, consumers can enjoy emerging applications and service providers can access new revenue streams. This will ensure they are prepared for the connectivity demands of virtual reality, whether in the metro core or at the edge of the network.
Future-proofing networks for familiar requirements
Despite recent high-profile layoffs across larger hyperscalers, the demand for high-capacity bandwidth isn’t going anywhere. With the metaverse and the 5G connectivity enabling it, the requirements are the same – but turbocharged.
#1: ENSURING WE ARE PREPARED FOR THE NEXT TRAFFIC EXPLOSION
Through more bandwidth-intense applications, the metaverse will put more traffic on the network, and 5G will help make ultra high-speed access to those applications more ubiquitous. This increases the appetite for quality Internet service providers – but only if their networks can handle the demands of these new applications. Besides immersive, interactive and high-definition streaming experiences, the metaverse will also drive further data collection, processing and replication (geospatial, transactions, cognition, etc.).
And change can happen fast. Let’s look at the pandemic, for example. Traffic levels are finally normalizing since the traffic explosion of COVID-19. But some global carriers saw a 40-50+ percent growth in traffic at the start of the pandemic as peaks and valleys were replaced by a seemingly static stream of persistent traffic. Now, imagine that, besides the usual video streaming and remote work, education and collaboration apps, the metaverse was widely used amid that unforeseen demand on the network. Many service providers already struggled to contend with that level of traffic without the widespread implementation of data-heavy metaverse applications.
Security will also become more important – both safety concerns for metaverse applications themselves and for the infrastructure supporting them. Hybrid work has made us dependent on apps like Teams or Zoom, but the metaverse will make connectivity even more mission critical. This is where diversity and resilience built into the network become essential. These qualities will enable service providers to ensure their networks have the routing options needed to keep their networks running amid unpredictable demands and outages. Keeping traffic safe from potential hijacking or malicious attacks will also play a key role in maintaining consumer trust.
#2: DISTRIBUTING INTERCONNECTION – THE METAVERSE AT THE EDGE
Both sheer traffic loads and latency-sensitive applications require traffic to move closer to the edge. While ultra-low latency use cases are still few and far between, service providers will want to break out from their core networks to the Internet as locally as possible. Computing power, content storage and interconnection must move closer to the edge if we want to enable metaverse applications throughout large countries, let alone in vast markets such as the United States. Global networks with comprehensive coverage in tier 2 and tier 3 markets will help close the digital divide in communities at the edge, bringing these emerging digital services to consumers everywhere, even in rural areas. Moreover, though today’s well-known hyperscalers will most likely have a strong position in the future, the metaverse will be an ecosystem play. For example – the “killer app” may not come from Meta, but a gaming company or B2B platform. Therefore, service providers need to ensure direct access to this ecosystem with as few hops as possible.
#3: A SCALABLE, DISAGGREGATED AND OPEN FUTURE FOR NETWORKS
Beyond adding capacity, coping with demand in a cost-efficient and responsive manner will be key to enabling service uptake. Service providers can improve the scalability of their networks while enhancing efficiency and performance through open optical networking and the convergence of the IP and optical networking layers. Open optical networking will prove vital in enabling emerging metaverse applications to be cost-effective over long stretches. Pluggables will improve sustainability by addressing the high power consumption of metaverse applications. Through pluggables, service providers can re-imagine the edge and displace the need for a dedicated metro or regional DWDM system.
Ultimately, we still do not know when the metaverse will become a reality in line with current visions. But when it does, service providers will need to be ready through networks that empower service providers, content providers and enterprises with a comprehensive global reach strengthened by the persistent innovation of that network’s underlying connectivity. To paraphrase Bill Gates, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.” Network transformation takes time. Therefore, companies must transform their underlying network architecture now, or carefully select a connectivity partner that prioritizes that transformation, to ensure they can meet the heightened network requirements of the future.
Johan Ottosson, VP Strategy
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