The year 2020 was the target year for introducing 5G technology, but it was also the year when the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus became a global pandemic. Because of the pandemic, the development of services and technologies supporting social interactions without face-to-face meetings accelerated. Unprecedentedly, many social events were held online. BTS, the most popular K-pop boy group, released a new album in a virtual world called Fortnite, and Joe Biden, the US presidential candidate back then, promoted his election campaign in another virtual world, Animal Crossing.
The concept of “metaverse” was introduced in the science fiction novel “Snow Crash” (Neal Stephenson, 1992). The idea implies that virtual worlds provide more than a setting for a game, wherein the virtual world and the real world mutually influence each other. This concept began to receive a lot of attention in 2020. At the annual developer event, the CEO of NVIDIA prophesied that the metaverse is coming.
The term “metaverse” is made up of the prefix “meta,” meaning beyond, and the stem “verse” meaning universe, and is often used to describe the concept of the next version of the Internet. Metaverse is a 3D virtual space where characters reside and interact with each other to build a society connected to the real world by the people who reside and act in both worlds. As people in the virtual world can interact with people in the real world, for example, to enjoy concerts and buy items, there is a genuine prospect of economic transactions.
In Cyberpunk 2077, the hottest first-person view RPG game released in late 2020, the story takes place in a virtual world called the Night City. While playing the game, I was frustrated when my avatar faces a non-player character (NPC) adversary who couldn't be defeated using my revolver. However, while avoiding the hammer swung by the enemy, striking my keyboard consecutively, my bare fist succeeded in finding a vulnerable spot on his back. Then, I experienced the joy of defeating my enemy.
In the metaverse, it is essential to keep the user in an immersive state in the virtual world to provide the same level of experience as reality, that is, with experiences comparable to those one has in the real world. As such, the response time to a user’s action should be reduced to a level below the human perceptible limit.
A metaverse offering such an immersive experience requires both a network providing low latency communication for imperceptible response time and significant server resources to run the virtual 3D world.
5G Edge Computing is a technology that provides rapid response time by hosting a combination of the communication infrastructure and computing resources close to users. It supplies a network and software platform environment that approaches or even goes beyond the human perception limit of response time.
Figure 1: Edge Computing
To provide such a network, mobile network operators place servers on their own sites. This, in turn, offers new revenue opportunities for operators through hosting edge application servers for third parties, as shown in Figure 1. Some mobile network operators may choose to deploy edge computing in cooperation with their own dedicated edge computing platform solution partners. Meanwhile, others may plan to host edge application servers in partnership with cloud service providers (i.e., hyperscalers), such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure.
Network designers must consider the overall user experience and availability of edge applications. They have to ensure that mobile devices will find the optimal edge computing server and how the necessary application servers (e.g., gaming, multimedia services) will be made available close to users. If various edge computing solutions solve these problems in different ways, it would be a headache for the mobile network operator. Therefore, we have worked to define a common ground to build the infrastructure, network system, platform, and orchestrator (i.e., the edge computing architecture). Then, a mobile network operator that deploys the various solutions of multiple edge computing solution providers can take advantage of standards that enable the integration of edge computing platform and 5G network.
Samsung initiated standardization activities to define an edge-computing architecture and its related specifications to avoid the fragmentation of the edge computing enabler solutions. The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) application group (i.e., Service and System Aspects Working Group 6 (SA6)) has designed and specified the mobile edge computing architecture.
Figure 2: Edge Computing Architecture
The architecture (as defined in 3GPP TS 23.558) introduces an Edge Enabler Client (EEC) and Edge Enabler Server (EES) to allow the application client to discover the optimal edge application server. Meanwhile, the Edge Configuration Server (ECS) provides edge configuration information for the EEC so that the EEC can connect to the optimal EES.
In the architecture, mobile applications can be used without modifications, either to access services in the existing cloud environment, where all services are provided by centralized servers over the Internet, or to access services hosted in the decentralized edge computing deployments. Edge hosting services can be provided by utilizing either one of the hyperscaler-provided cloud platforms or the mobile operator’s own platform, as shown in Figure 2.
With this architecture, the key stakeholders in edge computing obtain the following benefits:
The application service provider can utilize the edge computing environment without rewriting client applications and server applications that are currently executed in centralized cloud service environments.
Cloud service providers can utilize network capabilities such as location tracking, Quality of Service (QoS), and traffic routing, as provided by different mobile network operators, through standardized application programming interfaces (APIs). This eliminates the need for tailoring applications for each of several network operators. Each cloud service provider can also abstract and re-expose the mobile network’s capabilities to their own customers using the standard API provided by the mobile network operator.
The mobile network operator can integrate multiple cloud service providers’ platforms with their own cloud solutions in a uniform manner as part of their overall edge computing architecture.
The 3GPP SA6 Stage 2 specification of this edge computing architecture, led by Samsung, will be fully completed in early 2021. Based on the architecture designed in SA6, it will be accompanied with 5G system architecture enhancements in SA2, security aspect (e.g., EEC authentication and authorization) specified in SA3, and management aspect (e.g., edge application server lifecycle management) specified in SA5.
Samsung, along with other companies actively working on edge computing in 3GPP, continues to work on all remaining aspects of the technical realization of this standard, such as the application programming interfaces for edge reference points in the 3GPP Core and Terminal groups, specifically CT1 and CT3. The final protocol-level specification will be completed by early 2022.
While completing the work on these 3GPP standards, preliminary implementation and integration work for real deployment are actively underway, involving all stakeholders across mobile network operators, terminal manufacturers, and edge computing solution providers. The edge computing service is expected to launch soon. When commercialization begins, you will be able to experience the next version of the Internet in an immersive manner.