Ongoing discussions over the state of the Metaverse have shifted focus from consumer to enterprise and industrial markets. The latter two have seen a meteoric rise in investment and popularity despite the former facing setbacks and reduced investment.
Measurable returns on investment (ROIs), a rapidly growing number of use cases, and expansion of infrastructural technologies have fully supported the advancement of the industrial and enterprise metaverses compared with other iterations.
XR Today is honoured to speak with Thierry E Klein, President of Bell Labs Solutions Research at Nokia Bell Labs. His division researches innovations across Nokia’s value chains, ecosystems, and enterprise-level business opportunities. As Nokia’s research and development (R&D) division, it builds next-generational technologies, systems, and architectures across its product lineup.
We discussed the dominance of the industrial and enterprise metaverses, building use cases and sustainable network operations, and the rise of 6G communications, among other topics.
XR Today: Will the enterprise become the driving force for building metaverse and serious gaming technologies?
Thierry Klein: We view the Metaverse as being divided into consumer and enterprise, with the latter category developing into a significantly more lucrative market in mission-critical industries.
It is possible that the development of the consumer metaverse will take longer to come to fruition than the development of the industrial and enterprise metaverses. This is because it will be a few more years before VR and XR devices become user-friendly from the perspective of ergonomics and design, in addition to becoming affordable.
The digital transformation of industries, however, is developing rapidly. Businesses are beginning to implement metaverse technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and digital twins in their day-to-day operations. The industrial sector is home to some of the most significant and far-reaching opportunities presented by the Metaverse.
The manufacturing, energy, logistics, construction, and transportation sectors of our economies stand to gain the most from implementing metaverse technologies. These are the industries that serve as the backbones of our economies. Interactions between the enterprise metaverse in the front and back offices and the industrial metaverse in operational technology are inevitable.
The enterprise and industrial metaverses have the potential to radically alter the ways in which businesses interact with customers, run their operations, produce and distribute goods and services, and manage their business relationships. According to ABI Research, the opportunity offered by the industrial metaverse, as shown by digital twins, augmented field service, and predictive maintenance will be greater than that offered by the enterprise and consumer markets.
XR Today: What are the four driving forces for metaverse evolution? Where does Nokia stand regarding connectivity?
Thierry Klein: The development of immersive applications will be fueled by innovation in key technologies such as semiconductors, software, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), the cloud, VR/AR/XR, and 5G/6G.
Advancements in human augmentation and digital-physical fusion will fundamentally change how people interact in a combined physical and digital reality. The primary goals of human augmentation are to improve human-computer interfaces and to create fully immersive experiences.
Digital-physical fusion relates to the creation, understanding and manipulation of dynamic representations of real-world objects, systems, and processes in the digital world. This will be made possible through ubiquitous, next-generation networking, advanced sensing, AI-based physical world understanding and real-time and dynamic rendering engines.
Without a robust and pervasive connectivity architecture, the Metaverse, with its immense powers, cannot grow. As a result, the network will serve as the critical enabler in the opportunities that the Metaverse will bring. This will require networks that are robust, adaptable, and incredibly powerful. This means there must be significant advancements in latency, bandwidth, speed, reliability and accessibility.
It’s a wrap! 🙌 #TeamNokia successfully concluded #LEAP2023 in Saudi Arabia. We showcased new possibilities for business transformation and #digitalization. Let’s keep up the conversations! pic.twitter.com/C1hnpyn0QM
— Nokia (@nokia) February 9, 2023
Nokia Bell Labs research shows that 2027 XR and metaverse mobile network traffic will supersede the traffic created by smartphone video. The traffic that dominates the network will not be driven by the smartphone, but rather by the immersive extended reality of the Metaverse.
5G is already providing the basis for metaverse connectivity; nevertheless, to attain the full potential of the Metaverse, a networking journey that spans the next ten years is required.
If the networks of the next decade aim to satisfy the growing requirements of the Metaverse, then they will need to provide optimal connectivity, vast capacity, and scale. As the Metaverse spreads across all industries, private specialized wireless networks will also facilitate it.
It is expected that by 2025, powerful new 5G-Advanced networks will come into existence. These networks will provide the foundation for authentic XR experiences, which will ultimately result in the convergence of the digital and physical worlds as well as the augmentation of people. However, the full potential of the Metaverse won’t be realized until the 6G era, which is expected to begin around 2030.
XR Today: How can enterprise and university testbeds provide use cases for the future metaverse? Why are use cases key to developing it?
Thierry Klein: Metaverse use cases are already being developed and tested across all segments. Use cases for enterprises include team collaboration, training, customer engagement, co-design, simulations and digital twins of offices for best design and regulation of space and safety.
Industries are using VR for interaction, simulations and worker training. AR use cases include frontline worker operation assistance and digital twins, for example in a factory, to improve assembly and processes, and of course, in the consumer segment, developing more immersive gaming, social interactions, and entertainment.
Universities typically explore metaverse use cases in education, healthcare and for social good, but industrial use cases are being developed within the industries themselves. These mission-critical industries, such as manufacturing, logistics, transportation, energy and utilities are beginning to digitalize and prepare for immersive applications where they will design smarter, engineer safer, manufacture faster, produce more sustainably, and service things remotely.
XR Today: What are Nokia’s 6G ambitions? Where would 6G become useful and how will XR technologies benefit from it?
Thierry Klein: 6G will not just build on existing technologies and systems, it will expand and transform what a network can do. At Nokia, we believe it will liberate human potential, inclusively and sustainably. Traditional metrics, such as capacity, throughput, reliability, latency and scale will continue to be important, but unlike previous generations, 6G will also go beyond those metrics.
Sustainability, trustworthiness, and digital inclusion will become the guiding principles for 6G innovation and standardization. We believe that the target for 6G should be cutting the average power consumption of 6G networks in half compared to 5G, while still supporting peak capacities 10 times higher than today’s 5G networks.
6G will also build on 5G and 5G-Advanced in many technological and use case aspects, driving their adoption at scale through optimization and cost reduction. At the same time, 6G will enable new use cases. XR is taking shape in 5G and will continue to evolve with 5G-Advanced, yet its full potential can only be realized with 6G.
XR Today: What are the benefits and challenges of creating a ‘green’ metaverse? Which networking technologies do you incorporate to achieve this?
Thierry Klein: Network design in the 6G future will prioritize sustainability. 5G and 5G-Advanced have made substantial gains in energy efficiency. The industry has traditionally prioritized performance optimization, but 6G will change that focus. Network performance will remain a priority as capacity demand grows 10 times over 5G networks. We must increase network capacity while reducing energy use and optimize our communications footprint while limiting our environmental impact.
6G research has only just begun, and no standard benchmarks have yet been established for the technology. Still, early discussions in the industry point to sustainability becoming a major component of the next generation of networking. We believe that the target for 6G should include cutting the average power consumption of 6G networks in half compared to 5G, while still supporting peak capacities 10 times higher than today’s 5G networks.
To create truly sustainable networks in the 6G era, we need to look at the environmental impacts of every aspect of 6G systems. Reaching these energy-efficiency gains will require new technologies in every aspect of the radio access network (RAN) from the power amplifier and antenna design to the processing architecture, algorithms and overall network topology.
Networks are not monolithic entities in the way they consume power. As demands on the network increase, electricity demands shift to different elements, meaning we must find holistic solutions to achieve our aggressive energy targets.
A new Nokia Bell Labs white paper details the technologies we are researching that will minimize energy consumption as network conditions change. Research at Nokia Bell Labs focuses on various eco-friendly solutions that could significantly reduce the environmental impact of future cell sites.
— Nokia (@nokia) February 6, 2023
We are investigating whether greater numbers of base stations can be self-powering through renewable energy sources such as solar panels. Our teams are also researching ways to redirect heat from the RAN’s own cooling systems into electricity generation that can power the network.
We are even discovering ways to capture carbon emissions at the cell site, further offsetting the network’s carbon footprint. While the first 6G networks won’t be commercially available until around 2030, we must begin making decisions for the future now.
In addition, our new generation of network processor silicon, FP5, is designed to add more capacity and security while driving down power consumption in IP and optical networks with a 75 percent reduction in power consumption and a greater than 3 times increase in performance.
Today, networks consume around 1.1-1.4 percent of all global energy. If nothing changes, the expected increase in data traffic and infrastructure could double or triple that figure by the decade’s end. That’s why Nokia has set the ambitious target of cutting its global greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, joining a global effort to limit a global temperature rise to 1.5°C.
XR Today: Anything else you would like to add?
Thierry Klein: In the interconnected future of the Metaverse, no business will be an island and no single organization will be able to operate independently. A rich, open, innovation-focused, multi-party value ecosystem of developers, solution and service providers, and network operators will emerge for collaborating and realising value, fueled by emerging digital engagement tools and ‘as-a-service’ business models.
Our teams are opening up networks for innovation, enabling businesses to build the digital services and applications of the future. We have also been driving openness in telecommunication standards for decades and has opened our technology for smartphones, IoT devices, and applications.
We are already driving the development of the next generation of technology in open forums such as HEXA-X-II for 6G, and more recently by joining the Metaverse Standards Forum. We also champion Open API networks; for example, with our ‘Network as Code’ strategy, where we are creating open ecosystems and the digital spaces that developers need to create value in the network’s application layer.
Additionally, we leverage our proven understanding of the underlying network complexities, and our ecosystem relationships to help create a marketplace and trusted platform where app developers and network providers can meet, wherever in the world they operate.
The digital and metaverse era will link countless new devices, empower new industries, and enable a myriad of new applications and use cases, potentially leaving more avenues open to attack. We have taken steps to safeguard against such threats with our Advanced Security Testing and Research (ASTaR) lab, launched last year.
We strongly believe that the Metaverse will be created by an ecosystem of partners, working together. For it to be successful, the Metaverse must be built on a foundation of openness, interoperability, safety and security, ecological sustainability, and inclusivity, allowing access to as many people as possible.