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How to build a high-speed network for the metaverse of things

Mar 24, 20226 mins

Today’s technology could build a low-latency, meshed optical network supporting real-time metaverse applications.

4 catastrophe vulnerable disaster fiber optic cables
Credit: Getty Images

How many people on social media have friends only in their home city? Probably not very many, so we shouldn’t think that when Meta or others deploy a metaverse, the inhabitants will all be drawn from the same place.

To be successful, a metaverse has to support dispersed users, and the more successful it is, the more its users can be expected to be dispersed over a wider geography. Today, metro, but tomorrow the world. If, as the metaverse spreads out, latency issues destroy the synchronized behavior of the avatars, then it will lose realism and at some point that loss would constrain growth. We already know how to control access latency, but how do we control massive-metaverse latency? Answer: With Massive Metaverse Meshing.

It’s almost certain that metaverse realism will start by having low-latency access to a metro edge point that’s the on-ramp to metaverse processes. That handles users who are all in one metro area, and many metaverse manifestations (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) can be expected to stay within a metro area, among people who know each other. The next step is to handle all users with as little incremental latency as possible. That’s possible by optical meshing of the metro areas.

Massive-mesh architecture

Most metaverse users are likely to interacting with others at least within their own country, so let’s take the US as an example here. If we assume we have 100 major metro areas, which in the US would mean cities with more than about 230,000 in population, then the total number of simplex paths would be N(N-1), or 9,900. That would admittedly mean a lot of fiber runs over long distances, but you wouldn’t need to make each “path” a discrete fiber connection.

Electrical handling is what tends to add latency to connections, because of queuing. Optical handling, particularly when supported by very high-capacity interfaces, would add only a little. City A traffic might get to City C via City B, which means we could concentrate the metro areas in a region back to a “gateway city” and link those via optics.

If we used reconfigurable optical add-drop multiplexers (ROADMs) and DWDM, we could easily create an effective full mesh of metros using today’s technology. With minimal transit routing in each metro handled by those ROADMs, we’d add only a little latency to metaverse users’ traffic anywhere in the US. Those gateway cities in the US could then be meshed with gateway cities in other countries, whose local metro areas would be similarly meshed. More mesh means less latency.

The metaverse mesh would become something very like a massive, virtual, distributed core router. Every metro area would have its on-ramp to the ROADM/DWDM mesh, and a connection that wasn’t local to a metro area would be one (virtual) hop away. Within a given country, where most traffic tends to be concentrated, you could well expect to connect from anywhere to anywhere else in maybe four optical hops maximum—entry metro to gateway to gateway to exit metro.

The metaverse of things

The big stumbling block for this explosive new network concept is that many just can’t see social media and Meta driving a global network change. OK, forget the metaverse in the sense of Meta and Facebook. If social metaversing isn’t your cup of tea, there’s the metaverse of things or MoT.

If we do forget what we’ve heard is driving the metaverse and look just at what a metaverse is in a technical sense, we open up a whole new set of applications. A metaverse is a digital-twin technology that facilitates real-world processes by creating virtual models that control those processes and synchronize to them. Yes, you can see this applied to social media, but you could also see it applied to enterprise collaboration, to IoT and smart buildings, to air traffic control and self-driving cars. Even to travel and tourism, using augmented reality.

Think of yourself walking down a street in a new city, wearing your VR/AR glasses. You’re looking for a place to eat so you ask your phone, and it overlays an arrow in your field of view, pointing to the places that might suit your needs. Or you’re looking for a product, and on request your glasses show you places in your field of view that sell it, and even the price. Or think of driving along and having navigational signals like turns, points of interest, or even warnings about traffic, pedestrians, or animals, all shown on your AR windshield.

Why massive metaverse meshing makes sense

There are a lot of possible applications of metaversing, a lot of companies that would benefit from making MoT a global reality. So, suppose MoT massive metaverse meshing does become a global reality; what happens to networking?

First, we now have a national, continental, and eventually global core network that’s entirely optical. Traditional core routing would disappear, but before you start feeling too sorry for the router vendors, there would be a collateral growth in metro routing. The net impact on router vendors could even be positive, given the large number of metro networks to be supported. However, the interfaces needed on a metro router could be different, because low-latency access networks would need to be aggregated directly onto the metro routers, and so would edge data centers.

Second, end-to-end latency would be dramatically reduced far beyond access/metro areas, which would enable real-time applications, including IoT, on a much larger geographic scale. This could have a significant impact on 5G IoT applications, because distributed IoT applications are those where the IoT sensors would be expected to move through a large area, and local wireless and wired connections wouldn’t be suitable. Even 5G fixed-wireless access, including millimeter-wave, could help by connecting users in areas not dense enough to justify fiber to the home. The impact on 5G could be far more significant than any other factor, which makes you wonder why operators interested in promoting new 5G applications wouldn’t invest in massive metro meshing.

For a decade at least, we’ve had technology that could generate this new model of a global mesh network. What the metaverse may offer is a reason to do it, an application that would create an ROI. The fact that Meta and likely all the public cloud providers would be behind it wouldn’t hurt a bit either. So next time you see one of those metaverse avatars, think about giving it a (virtual) hug, mindful of course of Meta’s metaverse behavioral rules. It just may be preparing your network for the future.


Tom Nolle is founder and principal analyst at Andover Intel, a unique consulting and analysis firm that looks at evolving technologies and applications first from the perspective of the buyer and the buyers’ needs. Tom is a programmer, software architect, and manager of large software and network products by background, and he has been providing consulting services and technology analysis for decades. He’s a regular author of articles on networking, software development, and cloud computing, as well as emerging technologies like IoT, AI, and the metaverse.

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