By David Erlich – Business Consulting Director

5G is seen as the next generation of mobile but may actually become a complement or a supplement to fixed services. We propose two illustrations on extended reality services for consumers (B2C) and Industry 2.0 for enterprises (B2B) to highlight these uses.

Extended reality for consumers

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are now under the spotlight. While virtual reality re-creates an immersive world using specific headsets which cuts the user from his physical environment, augmented reality combines the real world with digital content, today using a smartphone camera and tomorrow using smart glasses. While VR situations require a controlled and well known environment and will be used typically at home or at work, AR applications are more envisaged to enrich information on a changing environment - typically on the move.

Facebook announced in July 2021, its investment in the creation of a metaverse and defines it as follows. "You can think about it as the successor to the mobile internet”, said Mark Zuckerberg in an interview in July 2021. Presenting an immersive experience, a kind of fusion between form and substance, he added that “you can think about the metaverse as an embodied internet, where instead of just viewing content — you are in it”, where virtual reality and augmented reality will both play a role.

In this context, mobile networks performances are mandatory to AR development, and 5G can become cumbersome in offering more bandwidth to support demanding 3D content as well as optimized response time for more fluidity. On the other hand, the controlled environment in which VR is used is better suited to fixed network Very High Bandwidth services powered by efficient Wi-Fi.

However, this dichotomy between fixed and mobile does not really fit within the vision of the metaverse, and when Zuckerberg speaks about “mobile internet” he means “internet with mobility”, which starts at home: “And the reality is that today with the mobile internet, we already have something that a lot of people access from the moment they wake up to when they go to bed”. This world of continuous immersive experience involves a mix of terminals: smartphones, smartwatches, smart glasses, Virtual Reality headset which can connect indifferently from mobile (5G cellular) to fixed networks (Wi-Fi). 5G will play the role of a connectivity glue to ensure a seamless immersion in a metaverse which aims to govern our day-to-day (digital) lives: “I think entertainment is clearly going to be a big part of it, but I don’t think that this is just gaming. I think that this is a persistent, synchronous environment we can be together”.

The metaverse is not a dystopia anymore. Facebook already commercializes one of the first affordable Virtual reality headsets, Occulus Quest 2, at 349 euros. On the AR side, steady rumors report Apple will launch their Apple Glass any time soon, expected at 499$.

Other players have started to invest in metaverses, especially in Far East Asia. Zepeto is currently a leading provider in South Korea, with over 200 million users. This service is a social network but also a shopping mall including major brands such as Gucci or Nike. KT DS (subsidiary of Korean Telecom) introduced the country’s first metaverse platform “KVaRAM” exclusively for students, enabling immersive courses.

Replacing fixed networks for industries

Industry 4.0 (also named “smart manufacturing, smart industry, etc…) is a combination of technologies including connected objects, big data, analytics, and cloud computing. It is the convergence of the information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). Industry 4.0 is the irruption of manufacturing into the data edge.

In the futuristic vicinities of Industry 4.0, the mobile connectivity has become vital to the productivity, which is now based on the massive use of data for all processes from command, analysis, optimization, up to predictive maintenance. Because some of these processes are real-time based, 5G will be more and more required, including response time under 10ms comparable to the wired technology.

Swedish telecom manufacturer, Ericsson, explains that smart manufacturing “requires private wireless connectivity as cabling makes rapid reconfiguration of a facility difficult and mobility nearly impossiblei”. To illustrate this statement, the company gives the example of autonomous mobile robots for real-time production chain automation.

In this vision, the private wireless networks enhance legacy capabilities: It unifies all communications protocols enabling more flexibility (for reconfiguration) and scalability (for rapid ramp-up), eases mobility on a surface as large as campus (as opposed to Wi-Fi).

“Private networks” can also be understood as “privatized”. For industrial customers both ownership of information and computing performances may require that the data remain stored locally. 5G cloud-native architectures offer the flexibility required to combine local processing and central intelligence.  Public/shared networks can offer the required privacy through slicing configurations, with a complement of dedicated hardware such as antennas and edge computing.

Private networks are a big business, and IDC estimates that the private networks market could reach B5,7$ in 2024ii, which is to be included in the broader perspective of an Industrial IOT market valued by analysts around B100$.

Industry 4.0 and private/privatized mobile networks open opportunities for new types of players such as “enterprise network operators” (ENO), which are a new flavor of telecom services providers: “An ENO combines the network control and visibility of a mobile network operator (MNO) with the global reach, flexibility, and rapid innovation of a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO)”iii

In conclusion of these two examples, we see that 5G is not only to be seen simply as mobility enabler. Because it gets the characteristics of fixed networks, it is elevated at the status of a universal means of connectivity for the metaverse and even a substitute of wireline for industrial networks.

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