Surprise! The metaverse could be great news for the enterprise edge

High-bandwidth, low-latency services needed to support the metaverse could also mean a better, cheaper way to provide access for edge applications like IoT.

virtual reality

When you think about the metaverse and the enterprise, do you think about millions of workers buzzing about in a virtual world to do their work?  Maybe employees picking Star Wars characters as avatars and fighting with light sabers?  CEOs likely blanch at that image; to most, virtual workers implies virtual work, and it’s hard to say how that generates real sales and products.  Fortunately, there’s an alternative that depends not on enterprises using the metaverse but on riding its coattails.

If you ask enterprises what they think about the next frontier in cloud computing is, the responses are mixed between “the edge” and “IoT”, and of course the latter is really an example of an edge application. Well that frontier may be delayed because service providers would have to make a significant investment in infrastructure just to create an edge/IoT option for enterprises, and most enterprises aren’t willing to start planning for that next frontier until services are available. With buyers waiting for services and sellers wanting proven demand, we could be in for an era of false starts, edge-wise.

Social media demand is different.  It can become enormous overnight, and the metaverse is a prime social-media phenomena, with a big potential problem. All those humans buzzing about in the virtual world of the metaverse would create some awkward moments unless all the avatars were controlled in real time with minimal delay.  Meta (the company) has announced policies against metaverse groping, but technology issues could lead to something like that happening accidentally. The problem is latency—the delay between when we initiate something in the metaverse and when our avatars mirror that action.  Significant loss of synchrony with the real world is an ugly problem for metaversing, and we can expect Meta and others to work to correct it by controlling latency.  If that happens, there’s hope for those enterprise edge/IoT applications.

Metaverse latency control is more than just edge computing, it’s also edge connectivity, meaning consumer broadband. Faster broadband offers lower latency, but there’s more to latency control than just speed.  You need to minimize the handling, the number of hops or devices between the user who’s pushing an avatar around a metaverse, and the software that understands what that means to what the user “sees” and what others see as well. Think fiber and cable TV, and a fast path between the user and the nearest edge, which is likely to be in a nearby major metro area.  And think “everywhere” because, while the metaverse may be nowhere in a strict reality sense, it’s everywhere that social-media humans are, which is everywhere.

Low latency, high-speed, universal consumer broadband? All the potential ad revenue for the metaverse is suddenly targeting that goal. As it’s achieved, the average social-media junkie could well end up with 50 or 100 Mbps or even a gigabit of low-latency bandwidth. There are corporate headquarters who don’t have it that good. Certainly, the average branch office VPN connection wouldn’t be that good, but if it could be, that could well transform how corporations provide connectivity.

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