By Dan Rabinovitsj, Vice President at Meta Connectivity
The connectivity industry has spent the last decade focused on building the infrastructure needed to support the billions of people who have come online to a mobile-first internet. That work has yielded many of the technologies transforming the world today — from remote work and distance learning to streaming entertainment and online gaming.
Now, just as the telecommunications landscape of the late 2000s transformed to support the explosion in smartphones and rich mobile apps, there’s a new opportunity for the industry on the horizon as we build for the metaverse and the new generation of devices that will deliver it. The next great connectivity challenge is emerging: reimagining network infrastructure to support the computing platforms of the future.
Over the next decade, we hope the metaverse will reach a billion people around the world, host hundreds of billions of dollars of digital commerce, and support millions of jobs for creators and developers. This opportunity calls for vast enhancements in capacity and fundamental shifts in how networks are architected and deployed, as well as an industry-wide collaboration — from tech companies to mobile operators, service providers, policymakers, and more — to prepare for the metaverse.
What will the metaverse require?
The metaverse will allow geographically distant participants to enjoy realistic, spatially-aware experiences that seamlessly blend virtual content in a user’s physical world, and empower users to feel more connected with each other. Delivering such an experience will require innovations in fields like hybrid local and remote real-time rendering, video compression, edge computing, and cross-layer visibility, as well as spectrum advocacy, work on metaverse readiness of future connectivity and cellular standards, network optimizations, improved latency between devices and within radio access networks (RANs), and more.
In the coming years, in collaboration with our industry partners, Meta plans to build several prototypes to fully understand and innovate on this complex interplay of systems. But in the meantime, we can illustrate the connectivity challenges that lie ahead by projecting forward from the products of today.
Consider interactivity. For an experience of truly “being there,” it’s very important that the graphical elements of immersive mixed reality worlds update rapidly in response to how people are interacting with them. Today’s latency-sensitive applications, like video calling and cloud games, have to meet a round-trip time latency of 75-150 ms, and this could even go down to sub 30 ms in the case of multi-player, complex games. But on a head-mounted mixed reality display, where graphics will have to be rendered on screen in response to where someone is focusing their eyes, things will need to move an order of magnitude faster - from single to low double-digit ms.
Local real-time rendering could make it possible to meet such tight latency constraints. But local rendering requires the entire virtual world, with all its effects and avatars, to be downloaded upfront before the experience can be consumed. For complex scenes with many avatars, this could take several hours to download over current networks. We envision a future where remote rendering over edge cloud, or some form of hybrid between local and remote rendering, plays a greater role in the years to come. And enabling remote rendering will require both fixed and mobile networks to be rearchitected to create compute resources at a continuum of distances to end-users.
Immersive video streaming is another place where the gaps are clear. Streaming a 720p video on a standard smartphone screen requires 1.3-1.6 Mbps of downlink throughput, and on a smartphone held at arm’s length, 720p resolution is sufficient to achieve human retinal resolution. But on a head-mounted display sitting just centimeters from the eyes, retina grade resolutions will need to be many orders of magnitude larger, even beyond 4K resolutions. Solving this problem will require innovations across the hardware and software stack, as well as revolutionary improvements in network throughput.
New opportunities to collaborate
Over the last decade, Meta has invested billions in partnership with telecom companies, OEMs, policymakers, and the wider industry to improve connectivity around the world. From ongoing open, collaborative efforts such as the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), country-specific and international spectrum advocacy, and work with the Wi-Fi Alliance; to technologies like Magma, an open-source software platform that helps operators deploy mobile networks, and subsea cables, we’ve seen the benefits of industry-wide collaborations to bring the world online to faster internet. In fact, we announced today that our subsea cable investments in Europe and APAC have the potential to contribute over half a trillion USD in an additional gross domestic product by 2025. In APAC alone, these efforts are expected to create up to 3.7 million new jobs.
A similar opportunity awaits the next generation of metaverse-ready networks. The need to simultaneously deliver enhanced speeds and ultra-low and uniform latency and jitter will stress both fixed and mobile networks. And achieving these benchmarks will require cross-layer and cross-domain optimizations.
For example, in today’s networks, the protocols and algorithms operating at the application layer — such as adaptive bit rate control loops for streaming video — do not have access to metrics on link quality and congestion from the physical layer. Similarly, protocols to optimize traffic congestion run mostly independent of one another, with some handled by content providers and others by network operators. We believe there’s an opportunity to realize significant gains by moving past this kind of siloed optimization and toward open interfaces for sharing metrics between OSI layers as well as network domains.
As we collaborate with the industry, there is also a need to define a common framework of how to measure and evaluate readiness for metaverse use cases of different levels of intensity. For example, in order to align on an industry-wide definition of a highly capable end-to-end network, we need to develop the common quality of experience metrics and the role they play in evaluating network capabilities and correlate the relationship between network quality of service metrics with user quality of experience metrics. At MWC and beyond, we plan to collaborate with TIP and partners to define the performance requirements for delivering great end-user experiences in the metaverse.
Collaborating with the industry to fuel ecosystem innovation
We’re excited to form new partnerships across the telecom ecosystem to tackle the challenges on the road to the metaverse.
Today at MWC, we’re announcing that Meta is working with Telefónica to establish a Metaverse Innovation Hub in Madrid to help accelerate metaverse network and device readiness through trials, metaverse-like experience use cases, device testing, and more. Through this Metaverse Innovation Hub, Telefonica and Meta plan to provide local startups and developers with access to a groundbreaking 5G laboratory where they will be able to utilize a metaverse end-to-end testbed on Meta and Telefónica’s network infrastructure and equipment, as well as benefit from Telefónica’s open innovation ecosystem and Innovation and Talent Hub Resources, and Meta’s engineering support, tools, and resources.
A new beginning and a new future
There are no silver bullets when it comes to the connectivity challenges raised by the industry-wide push toward the metaverse. Overcoming these challenges will take a global effort that no single company, or even industry, is capable of sustaining on its own. But the lesson of the mobile era, which brought fast, reliable internet to billions of people, shows how powerful the connectivity industry can be when it works together to serve the world.
At MWC 2022, Meta will be hosting an industry discussion, in collaboration with TIP, on how to identify and characterize the interplay between network and application dynamics. Through this session, we’ll engage with the industry to build the case for developing a canonical readiness evaluation framework by grounding the discussion in ways to make networks and applications more aware of their respective capabilities. To learn more, visit https://tipbirdsofafeather2022.splashthat.com/.
The article was originally published on Meta's tech blog