Why is 6G required to realise the metaverse vision?

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By Sunil David, Co Chair Digital Communications Working Group, IET Future Tech Panel

Currently, last-mile access is still the latency bottleneck in 4G networks, 5G with a promise of latency of fewer than 5 milliseconds coupled with Multi-access. Edge Computing (MEC) is expected to significantly enhance the metaverse user experience. While 5G will be able to support the metaverse ecosystem, the emergence of 6G is likely to enhance metaverse use cases.
6G (6th-generation) is all set to be an exponentially powerful successor to 5G cellular technology within the next decade. It will use frequencies much higher than 5G networks and is expected to provide significantly higher capacity and extremely low latency. One of the key objectives of the 6G internet is to support 1- microsecond latency. This is 1,000 times faster, or 1/1000th the latency, than 1- millisecond throughput. While it is too early to approximate 6G data rates, initial research suggests that a theoretical peak data rate of 1 terabyte per second for wireless data may be a possibility. The use of sub-millimetre waves—wavelengths that are less than 1 mm and frequency selectivity to determine relative electromagnetic absorption rates is expected to significantly advance the development of wireless sensing technology.

6G and the Expansion of Metaverse

The transition of the digital ecosystem to the metaverse, where a person will feel immersed in a virtual, immersive, and threedimensional (3D) world is likely to push data usage by 20 times across the globe by 2032, and telecom service providers are well placed to benefit from the massive surge across the world, as per a Credit Suisse report. Metaverse has tremendous potential to further expand screen time and significantly drive more bandwidth consumption. Internet traffic today already is close to 80% video content and has been growing at a 30% CAGR. Hence, even nominal metaverse usage could drive a further 37% CAGR in the next decade to 20x current data usage. From a consumer standpoint, the specific areas where metaverse will power new use cases are gaming and entertainment. The gaming segment is where early use cases of metaverse are expected to see a significant fillip since people can engage in ways they never have been before.  In the entertainment industry, 3D virtual options open up for film, television, and music content. Metaverse is driving new avenues for entertainment. The technology has advanced to a stage where a user can be viewed as a hologram in another place, or be teleported to any remote location, such as in a musical concert or to any social gathering.

In all these applications, be it gaming or entertainment, a low latency environment is imperative for users to feel immersed in the metaverse to the same level as they would be in the real world. This is especially true of motion to photon (MTP) latency – that is, the time it takes for the user’s action to be reflected on the display screen of their device. MTP latency definitely needs to be below the human perceptible limits to allow end-users to interact and engage with holographic augmentations seamlessly without causing dizziness and sickness. Telecom networks need to meet a < 20ms latency to avoid the user feeling sick. Currently, last-mile access is still the latency bottleneck in 4G networks, 5G with a promise of latency of fewer than 5 milliseconds coupled with Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) is expected to significantly enhance the metaverse user experience. While 5G will be able to support the metaverse ecosystem, the emergence of 6G is likely to enhance metaverse use cases.

Bottlenecks to Adoption

Connectivity in India is still very patchy, and the user experience is not consistent. The average spectrum holding of Indian operators is far lower compared to global standards. Also in India, currently only 33% of the Telecom towers are fiberized and this has to increase to support the 5G rollouts expected to happen later this year. Given the huge amount of content that will be generated and with massive amounts of Data to be handled, one requires a systems approach for the 6G technology market that makes use of Analytics, AI, and next-generation computation capabilities using HPC (High-Performance Computing) and Quantum computing. Data centres powered by HPC and quantum computing to support metaverse applications do not exist today.

Policy Frameworks

Notably, concerns around the metaverse technology have emerged, prompting discussions around what legal implications they might have in the real life. From the issue of the groping of a female digital avatar to the selling of assets in millions using cryptos,metaverse has opened a number of challenges. At the same time,this is just the beginning of the revolution of the internet, and its full impact will be seen only in the next 10 years. The pursuit of the metaverse raises concerns around already contentious issues such as Data security and Privacy, Application of Antitrust and Competition laws ,Infringements of intellectual property rights (IPR), Enforcement of Liability and Jurisdictional concerns, all of which must be addressed to fully appreciate the potential of the technology. This definitely calls for an early draft of the law and policy framework for metaverse so that technology also evolves with the boundaries set by law.

A Future of Endless Possibilities

The infrastructure layer that powers the metaverse includes the technology that enables our devices, connects them to the network and delivers the required content. The infrastructure upgrades on computing, connectivity and storage supplemented and powered by AI should dramatically improve bandwidth while reducing network latency, with a clear path to 6G in order to increase network speeds by a significantly higher order of magnitude. In the healthcare industry metaverse can be applicable across areas including holographic medical imaging or in enabling real-time interactions between the patients and Healthcare professionals and caregivers, irrespective of geographical boundaries.

The metaverse can help significantly improve the manufacturing process, particularly in the areas of product design and development, by facilitating an improved relationship and interaction between the key stakeholders—business owners, suppliers, and the end customers. Apart from this, customers in the metaverse could have much better and improved visibility into the supply chain process with 3D representations for how products are designed, built, distributed, and sold.

Overall, the future of metaverse holds immense potential to revolutionise a wide range of sectors, and 6G can definitely enable us to realise the metaverse vision.

At the Future Tech Congress, we will be discussing AI, Blockchain, Digital Twin and how these future technologies can help businesses gather customer insight and boost growth, in the areas of Manufacturing, Healthcare, Fintech and Supply Chain. Explore our full agenda here. 

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