Without standards, there is no metaverse

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Creating metavers takes longer than clever speech by Facebook or anyone else. Before any of us can begin to explore it, someone – or perhaps a combination of many – needs to start creating it. For that to happen globally and on a real basis, we need the right combination of devices, standards and network technology – none of which are yet here.

We will access Metawars through a variety of devices, with different methods of access and connectivity and different styles – from perfect immersive headsets to fashionable glasses that can be worn all day, every day. And while device makers will compete for market share and attention based on their different user interfaces, many shared and standardized methods will be needed to explore the metavers experience the virtual worlds they access.

The truth is that many of these standards and standardized approaches are currently missing and still need to be created. A simple example of this can be found around mapping and simultaneous localization that would be necessary to create a mix of physical and digital augmented realities that could create metavars. Today, device manufacturers and platforms each have their own proprietary data for this process, and there is nothing that can pass the agreed standard.

Metavers’ virtual and mixed reality worlds will be created using spatial mapping – the process by which devices capture and combine sensory data to create a three-dimensional rendering of space. The computational algorithms needed to do this may be on the device, in the network, or more likely a combination of the two.

In this metavers experience, latency is important because space needs to be re-rendered in real-time as you move through it and real-world surfaces are covered with virtualized colors, textures and images. It makes the same computing key when it comes to delivering a metavers experience because in virtual reality applications, many users will experience nausea until the latency drops below 20 milliseconds. Time warping is used to try to counteract this, but lower latency connections will provide better quality of experience (QoE). In addition, in augmented reality settings, high network and processing latency will give poor QoE when tracking or interacting with real-world objects.

And for Metavers to be device and platform-independent, the current fragmented landscape of proprietary mapping solutions will need to be merged into accepted standards. The OpenXR community is trying to address this through open APIs, 3GPP is addressing it by standards in radio and network optimization, and MPEG is looking at a range of compression technologies, including spatial audio, heptics, and high-performance video codecs.

But whether it’s all uplink and downlink transport optimizations for XR data streams, video, audio, haptics and point cloud processing or dedicated network slicing, Metavers needs to standardize processes underpinning spatial mapping data. Universally accessible experience, not a fragmented experience of ownership.

Devices, too, are the way to go before they become ubiquitous – especially if we are talking about wearable, fashionable, spectacles.

The merged reality version of Metavers involves modifying real-world objects to create a digital representation of the real world and to overlay textures on it, potentially inserting virtual objects or creating a different look. You can turn a real city into a medieval-looking city, or you can turn New York into Gotham City – still see real buildings, still see real people, but overlay them with a different look. The second version of Metavers can be completely virtual and is built using a full immersive headset. Versions will probably be device or platform based, but they will all require standards and advances in network technology to deliver those personalized experiences.

Of course, while some of these can be delivered using 5G – given the level of bandwidth, reliability and latency available on 5G networks – the need for ubiquity and scale is still a bit far. Facebook may roll out some AR specs and call it Metavers, but then Apple could unveil its own coolest device and word Metavers. Both may develop a business model that works for them, but it will also need to work for (mostly mobile) network operators that will provide connectivity.

Furthermore, while Facebook’s business model is likely to be platform-based and incorporate advertising, Apple will almost certainly be based around a ‘cool’ device and user interface. But the simple fact is that as long as devices talk and interact with each other, as long as all these presented worlds use the same standards and data sharing technologies, and as long as networks can’t deliver capacity and connectivity at affordable and sustainable prices, Until then Metavers will stop – or there will be a shortage to deliver its full potential as quickly as possible.

No single company owns the Internet. No company owns the commerce on the Internet, its access, user interface, innovation or the ideas it publishes. Yes, some companies are Internet giants – but the Internet is also home to millions of small and successful companies and individuals. The same pattern must be followed for Metavars to be fully successful for a capable and wide global audience of users.

Chris Phillips is Senior Director of Advanced Research and Development, Media IP at Xperia. His current focus is on augmented reality, metavers and cloud gaming research topics. Prior to Xperi, he led Ericsson’s Extended Reality Research and held research positions at AT&T Laboratories and the former AT&T Bell Laboratories. He is also an inventor with over 100 patents worldwide.

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