Orange chief technology and innovation officer Michaël Trabbia (pictured above) believes the company is getting very close to meeting the requirements that will be needed for its mobile and fixed networks to support metaverse-related applications, though it is yet to determine how it would monetise such services and get a return on the investments needed to support such bandwidth-hungry, latency-sensitive offerings.
In a face-to-face interview with TelecomTV in Paris, Trabbia shared his recipe for the optimal telco network that, he said, will be required if metaverse and extended reality (XR) uses are to be made widely available. The first and foremost ingredient, according to him, is to ensure high bandwidth – something that the company claims to have in the form of its 5G and fibre networks.
“You also need low latency, which 5G standalone (SA) and fibre can bring. Then you need to have an end-to-end guarantee on the latency, which will also require edge-computing capabilities” to bring the features closer to the customer, according to Orange’s tech boss.
Finally, as per Trabbia’s recipe, it is “absolutely critical” to sustain quality over time. “What is really painful in the quality of service from the customer perspective is to have a big change, for instance, in latency or in the bandwidth, so we also need to guarantee and to have stable connection, bandwidth [and] latency for the customer,” Trabbia noted.
He stressed that Orange is “quite advanced” with its “high-quality” 5G and fibre access networks. “I think we already have very strong networks that are able to do this with 5G and fibre. We might need to go further, but it is also very important that we are able to monetise these investments. And that’s also why we have discussions with the [Orange group] service providers to understand what their needs will be and how this could be monetised, because this also requires additional investment,” he explained.
From an infrastructure perspective, supporting such services would also require investments in edge computing and “we will need to have the SA [standalone] evolution that is not yet here”, he explained. Orange will start to deploy 5G standalone core platform capabilities next year, and that will provide the required “agility on the network to orchestrate the different slices”, added Trabbia.
He also envisioned changes in the home connectivity realm, as many of the metaverse-related use cases will be in users’ homes. “So this is about the box, the gateway, in order to make sure that what is brought to the home is not lost with the home connection. Because if you have great fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) with great bandwidth and [low] latency, but afterwards you have poor gateway and poor Wi-Fi repeater, that is bringing additional latency, and poor Wi-Fi is not able to support [such XR services]. This will need to be addressed,” he said.
The networks of the future
Overall, the company is on a journey to change the ways it builds, operates and manages its networks.
“The main change will come from bringing agility to the networks. We are going to bring what has been pushed on IT with cloud, with an agile way of working, to the networking world. [Then] we will be able to have more efficient networks,” explained Trabbia.
As an example, he pointed to the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and explained that “much less field intervention” by engineers will be needed to change network settings as this will be done by automatic network reconfiguration, depending on traffic needs.
He added that this AI functionality will come in handy for major networking events, such as the Olympic Games 2024 in Paris, for which Orange will be the sole connectivity partner. “There will be a massive number of people coming – and it can change very fast in the different sites that will welcome the Olympics. And today, what we do is bring extra capacity and it’s a project, it takes time. And now, we can leverage because this will be just a software-defined network so we can remotely and even automatically, at some point in time, redirect the resource and the capacity to the areas and the uses that are needed”, explained Trabbia.
This change, according to the executive, will also allow the telco to offer network-as-a-service and on-demand services for enterprises. He gave the example of network slicing possibilities, which will be unlocked with the implementation of 5G SA, allowing for delivery of dedicated capacity and guaranteed quality of service for specific uses, such as gaming and other immersive use cases.
“You need to be able to orchestrate all those slices dynamically in order to switch on and off the slices in specific areas and just for [when you need it]. So we need to have an absolutely agile network that is really able to do that smoothly, automatically, just like when you ask for a new order for increased capacity… It’s just one click and all the network automatically adapts,” he explained.
Quantum technology was one of the innovations showcased at the Orange Research and Innovation Exhibition 2022 held in Paris earlier this week. “It is important to say that [quantum technology] will be a breakthrough, but [one] that – at least in the first place, maybe in ten years – will be useful for some very dedicated players… [Some] security companies, governments, banks… are very concerned about this kind of topic”, said Trabbia, adding, without mentioning any names, that Orange is already seeing interest from specific customers.
BT is another big-name player that is increasingly focused on exploring opportunities and partnerships to deploy quantum-based networks – see BT targets thousands of businesses with its new quantum-secured network.
– Yanitsa Boyadzhieva, Deputy Editor, TelecomTV