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Network Requirements for the Metaverse

I’ve often joked that I don’t play computer games because I’m holding out for a holodeck. While that may sound ridiculously far-future, we’re on the verge of seeing the web-based virtual reality that will be a major step towards a holodeck. There is already some awesome virtual reality software and games where a person can get immersed in another world using a headset. But it will be a big leap to move virtual reality online where people from anywhere can join in a game together like is done in the movie Ready Player One. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a movie from 2018 about a believable future worldwide gaming phenomenon.

Meta (formerly Facebook) is investing heavily in creating a platform that can host game designers and others to launch virtual reality apps. When Meta first announced that it was going to tackle the metaverse, people assumed the company was off designing games, but the company is instead tackling the technology that will enable the use of online virtual reality.

Meta says there are some key requirements that will be needed to support the metaverse.

  • Fast symmetrical broadband speeds. And they aren’t just talking about one-gigabit bandwidth—faster speeds will be needed to transmit the huge amounts of data needed to create real-time virtual reality worlds.
  • Low latency, under 10 milliseconds. Well-designed last-mile fiber networks have speeds in this range today. But Meta isn’t talking only about the last mile network, but the middle mile network used to connect users to the cloud. The company says that middle-mile carriers will need to step up their game. Some networks are already this fast, but many are not.
  • We’re going to need higher resolution video—4K is not good enough resolution to convey the pixels needed to create immersive worlds. And that means big data files.
  • With big data files, we’re going to need the next generation of video compression that can compress huge data files in real-time, and that can be decompressed without adding delay to the signal.
  • To make everything work together in real-time will require cooperation in the network between entities. Some traffic optimization is done today by network operators while content providers do their own optimization—it’s going to take a coordinated real-time integrated process of network optimization that includes all parties to the metaverse.
  • Metaverse software must be able to adapt to the user. While designed for a high-bandwidth, low latency fiber customer, the metaverse system must be able to adapt to the local network conditions. We do this in a minor way today when Netflix dummies down the video signal to match a user’s bandwidth.
  • What Meta didn’t way is that we’ll need ISPs willing to deliver the fast 2-way traffic needed to make the metaverse work in homes.

This may all sound out of reach, but Meta already has early prototypes of the concepts working in the lab. We’re seeing last-mile fiber builders now using XGS-PON that can deliver 10-gigabit symmetrical broadband. We’re seeing new middle-mile routes with 300-gigabit pipes reaching out to smaller and smaller cities.

The metaverse and web-based virtual reality will only become possible when there are enough people in the world connected to a fast fiber connection. We’re certainly on that path in the U.S. with plans for various ISPs to build fiber to pass nearly 50 million more homes in just the next few years. Meta envisions a platform where it supplies the muscles and tens of thousands of develops independently create metaverse worlds. That’s not quite a holodeck—but I might just give it a try.

By Doug Dawson, President at CCG Consulting

Dawson has worked in the telecom industry since 1978 and has both a consulting and operational background. He and CCG specialize in helping clients launch new broadband markets, develop new products, and finance new ventures.

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Comments

Todd Knarr  –  Mar 12, 2022 8:29 PM

I think the biggest spanner in the works will be at the ISP level. They currently have last-mile tech that’ll deliver the needed bandwidth, but they currently over-subscribe that bandwidth by such a large factor that they can’t deliver it reliably to their customers on a sustained basis. That means upgrading the neighborhood and city-wide networks to reduce over-subscription. As long as they have virtual monopolies in their service areas, though, they won’t do that. Fixing that’s going to take intensive lobbying not from tech firms like Meta but from local and regional employers who want to use VR but who’re hampered by local ISP limitations. Which requires wide-spread desire to adopt VR first, which we probably won’t see as long as it’s hampered by local ISP limitations. Or we’ll need the FCC to grow a pair, take back control over data network regulation and strip ISPs of their ability to maintain local monopolies by preventing municipal broadband deployment (the ideal response to the whinges about “waste of taxpayer’s money” ought to be simply “Isn’t that for the local taxpayers to decide?”).

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