Here comes the metaverse – Can our broadband networks handle it?

This article was published in RCR Wireless News on October 18th, 2022. You can read the original article here  

By Pravin S Bhandarkar, Founder and CEO, RtBrick

Despite speculation, the metaverse market is forecasted to achieve $47.48 billion in 2022 and skyrocket to $678.8 billion in revenue by 2030. However, with this extreme, lucrative potential comes significant concerns over whether our current broadband networks are ready and able to support the pending metaverse boom.

The gaps in today’s infrastructure

Roughly 400 million users are creating, socializing, dreaming, building and buying in the metaverse, and this number is expected to leap to 5 billion users by 2030. Gartner also predicts that, by 2026, 30% of global organizations will have products and services ready for the digital universe. In addition, experts believe the metaverse will advance more rapidly than the modernization of mobile devices.

So, what will this surge mean for our network? Let’s look at some key points:

  • The metaverse will consume massive bandwidth — greater than any application before.
  • Although it will mostly require downloads, a solid portion will rely on uploads as well.
  • To create a true metaverse experience, reliable and consistent speed will be crucial.

Unfortunately, many households today do not have sufficient broadband speeds. Telcos who sell broadband with asymmetrical information typically advertise the peak throughput speed (or when the circuit connects to the edge of the ISP’s network) as the overall speed. However, this is not the speed at which broadband connections can consistently run. They are frequently oversubscribed, which can cause speeds to fluctuate based on demand.

Between April and December 2020, it’s estimated that telework accounted for about 50% of paid work hours. New remote communication tools, applications, and conferencing platforms became required to keep operations running as smoothly as possible. Stay-at-home advisories also brought more people to the internet in their free time. As a result, uploading traffic increased sharply unlike before — exposing a previously ignored and major challenge for broadband providers: upload speeds vary significantly compared to downloads.

Broadband companies were greatly strained by the online surge and new high levels of bandwidth during the pandemic. While these problems have since been smoothed over, the metaverse will present an entirely new challenge on a much larger scale, which likely won’t stabilisz as efficiently.

Why? Because the access network and content delivery networks (CDNs) lack the capacity to handle such a spike in consumers. Greater usage all at once will result in the network running slower, and therefore, the metaverse will not appear as realistic.

Overall, to support the pending tidal wave of bandwidth consumed by the metaverse, it’s urgent to start upgrading our current infrastructure and preparing our networks now.

What needs to be done?

The obvious answer might be to spend more on broadband capacity. Unfortunately, carriers are already being hit with high spectrum licensing costs, and as operating costs and demand for new infrastructure continue to rise outside the metaverse, it’s unclear where the funding required would come from — without significantly increasing the costs to consumers. In addition, it can take months or years to deploy new infrastructure required to sustain higher traffic demands.

Traditionally, carriers have built their networks using monolithic systems that integrate hardware and software from a single vendor. As a result, when telcos attempt to meet increasing demand, they must face a slow, perpetual and unavoidable hardware replacement cycle. Equipment selection becomes a compromise between either the best hardware or the best software, and unfortunately, investment in this is escalating faster than revenues.

The solution is for telcos to start operating similarly to how cloud-native companies build their data centers: through network disaggregation. Disaggregated systems enable telcos to adopt the most effective network software and hardware independently and replace functions like core and edge routers and broadband network gateways (BNGs).

The shift to disaggregation is the result of merchant silicon. These high-volume and low-cost networking chips are being used to build new ‘bare-metal’ switches — often on the same outsourced assembly lines as traditional router systems — that are a fraction of the cost of conventional telco switches and routers, but just as powerful. Bare-metal switches can then be used to create IP/MPLS routers for broadband networks.

Other advantages to disaggregation include:

  • Disaggregated systems cost less than half of traditional networks.
  • Hardware and software can be deployed in minutes using zero touch provisioning.
  • Once installed, telcos no longer need to train their teams on multiple vendor processes and systems. All operations can be conducted in a single environment.
  • Hardware supply chain challenges have far less impact, as hardware is interchangeable between vendors.

Let’s get to work

While we may have missed our opportunity to implement an effective approach during the pandemic, there’s still time to get ahead of the strain that true metaverse experiences will put on our networks. But we need to start acting now.

Shifting to disaggregation and adopting a cloud-native approach is our best chance at strengthening our networks to support the metaverse. It could more than double today’s broadband capacity with no additional cost, and the architecture is flexible enough to handle further increased demand at short notice.

Network disaggregation is a vital tool to save the telecoms industry and enable the metaverse.