Will the Metaverse require a complete overhaul of the internet?
While the Metaverse is yet to be defined in any universal way, largely because it doesn’t yet exist, most people envision a persistent, hyper-realistic, immersive, Ready Player One-esque virtual world that allows planetwide interactions, in real-time.
Before we consider the connectivity infrastructure required to support this version of the Metaverse, it’s worth reflecting on our track record for underestimating future technology needs.
In 1943, President of IBM, Thomas J Watson predicted “a world market for maybe five computers”, in 1981, the inventor of the mobile phone Marty Cooper stated that “Mobile phones will absolutely never replace the wired telephone”, and in 2005 Steve Chen, founder of YouTube, expressing doubts about the company’s viability, saying “I don’t know… there just aren’t that many videos I want to watch.”
While we can forgive Thomas, Marty and Steve (it is notoriously difficult to predict the future, so much so that Silicon Valley employs Futurists to do this exact thing) we should never underestimate the potential scale of new infrastructure required to run the Metaverse.
In a December 2021 opinion piece titled “Powering the Metaverse”, senior vice president and head of Intel's Accelerated Computing Systems and Graphics, Raja Koduri posited that “Truly persistent and immersive computing, at scale and accessible by billions of humans in real time” will require “a 1,000-times increase in computational efficiency from today’s state of the art.”
It is clear that a persistent, hyper-realistic, immersive, virtual world that allows planetwide interactions, in real-time will require significant improvements in latency, symmetrical bandwidth and overall network speeds.
UK broadband usage has increased significantly over the past couple of years, largely due to the increase in home working and video conferencing brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic, from 22,000 Petabytes in 2019, to 62,000 Petabytes in 2021.
But what impact will the Metaverse have? And what will this mean in terms of physical infrastructure? Will it require a complete overhaul of the internet? As a minimum it means full fibre broadband to every home. But does it also mean an edge data centre in every home? Or the proliferation of 5G or 6G networks with single digit millisecond latency?
Perhaps the Silicon Valley Futurists can tell us.