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Digital Twins

Emergence of Metaverse Has Already Started, Before 6G, Experts Say

The emerging world of the metaverse and digital twinning (see 2210190017) will require more powerful networks, though how much more powerful is an open question, said Nokia CEO Pekka Lundmark at the Nokia and New York University Brooklyn 6G Summit Tuesday. The metaverse has been defined as the ability to render 3D virtual worlds in real time, with an unlimited number of users able to experience them at the same time, he said.

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There will be consumer, enterprise and industrial metaverses, Lundmark said. The enterprise and industrial metaverses will interlink, he said at the hybrid livestreamed and in-person event. “A single product from the same company will pass through both as it moves from drawing board to the factory floor,” he said. The potential for the metaverse is “bigger than we can imagine, bigger than any of us can predict,” he said.

Lundmark offered as one illustration a digital twin of a power network showing the real-time fire risk to power lines from vegetation, “one of the main reasons for wildfires.” The Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory is using a digital twin as part of research on a next-generation nuclear reactor, he said. Two hundred scientists are collaborating to twin the human immune system, which could be a “major breakthrough” for treatment of diseases including cancer and COVID-19, he said.

The metaverse “won’t be dependent on a single device or piece of hardware. Rather it will be combination and evolution of complementary technologies, including cloud and edge computing, AI, blockchain, very importantly, and the internet of things, and of course -- VR [virtual reality], AR [augmented reality] and digital twins,” Lundmark said. “No one company can hope to create or own all the elements required,” he said.

Lundmark warned the metaverse will require standards based on openness and interoperability. “The metaverse can only achieve its full potential if everybody is invited to the party,” he said: “Even today, 3.9 billion people around the world remain unconnected.” Collaboration is critical, he said. “No one can own the metaverse -- we need collaboration to build it,” he said. “Collaboration means changing our mindset of only working with one partner at a time,” he said. “We need to ask how do we bring three, four, five, six or even more different players into an ecosystem where data can be shared securely, where new products can be brought to service,” he said.

Young people are the most likely to be aware of the term metaverse and to use it, but at the same time question whether they’re using it, said Steve Johnson, Ipsos head-qualitative capabilities. “When you talk to them” they say “Oh no, I’m just playing Roblox,” he said. Members of Generation Z go on Roblox to meet their friends, he said: “They’re not thinking about it as a completely separate thing; it’s just a way that they experience life.”

Gen Zers “have this quite dystopian idea of what [the metaverse] is going to be and incredibly high expectations,” Johnson said. When they hear metaverse they think of The Matrix, he said. They expect it to be “massively immersive,” he said.

Technology is what happens after you were born,” joked Ken Perlin, NYU computer science professor.

5G still has five years to run, with three more 3rd Generation Partnership Project releases to come before 6G, said John Smee, Qualcomm senior vice president-engineering. The next big 5G standard is Release 18, and that’s viewed as the start of 5G-advanced, Smee said. “From a timing standpoint we do have another strong five years of 5G evolution, but at the same time it’s already the time to really begin foundational 6G research,” he said.

Smee said networks are changing fundamentally under 5G. More “value” is “being created at the edge of the network,” he said: “The data that’s being created and shared is created at the device itself. It’s shared at the network. It’s also shared with other devices.”

The goal must be to make sure “the U.S. remains in a leading position when it comes to wireless technologies,” said Igal Elbaz, AT&T network chief technology officer. Elbaz said it’s impossible to talk about 6G without talking about 5G first. “I’m sorry I’m going to have to bring you down from the moon to earth … from 2030 to 2022,” he said. 5G “emerged during a pandemic,” he said: “Many of us when COVID started had concerns -- are we going to be able to build, are we going to be able to push the standards forward.”