Amazon Web Services has partnered with Red5 Pro to open a groundbreaking shortcut to the future by enabling immersive extended reality (XR) and other interactive video experiences associated with the Metaverse to be delivered over first-generation 5G networks.
This vast range of possibilities was widely deemed to be dependent on implementations of the more advanced version of 5G known as 5G Standalone Architecture (SA), which most mobile network operators (MNOs) have yet to undertake. Now such capabilities can be brought to life through activation of Red5 Pro’s Experience Delivery Network (XDN) platform on facilities in the Wavelength Zones that AWS and its mobile partners are implementing worldwide.
In fact, reliance on XDN infrastructure, in conjunction with Wavelength Zones, is important to operations on 5G SA networks as well. Extremely low latencies are unattainable over any type of 5G network when delays of anywhere from tens of milliseconds to multiple seconds are incurred by traffic traversing cell sites, metro and regional aggregation centers, and the internet to get to and from the cloud.
Those delays are eliminated when traffic flows directly between cell sites and the cloud via Wavelength Zones. These instantiations of AWS compute and storage services, which are housed in the carrier datacenters that aggregate local cell tower traffic, connect with AWS infrastructure running in 77 Availability Zones across 24 AWS Regions worldwide.
The list of Amazon partners operating Wavelength Zones includes Verizon, Japan’s KDDI, SK Telecom in South Korea, and Vodafone in Europe, and will soon expand with the addition of Bell Canada. Verizon has the largest footprint with Wavelength Zones in 13 U.S. cities.
The Implications of Sub-50ms Latency
By deploying XDN infrastructure in Wavelength Zones, app developers, service providers, and the carriers themselves can deliver interactive video streams at end-to-end latencies well below 50ms between any points served by these AWS cloud on/off ramps.
These are the speeds essential to supporting spontaneous interactions in networked extended reality (XR) environments, especially virtual reality (VR) and hologram-populated mixed reality (MR) where immense volumes of data must be incessantly exchanged with instantaneous synchronicity among all users.
Such speeds are also critical to other use cases involving video-rich and/or high-quality audio use cases like fast-action multiplayer game competitions among dispersed gamers, musicians playing together at remote distances, real-time reactions to aggregated video surveillance feeds in an unfolding emergency, remote monitoring and management of military operations, doctors administering health care at remote distances, and much else. In fact, any real-time interactive application involving video and audio communications is improved when latencies are reduced to near lightspeed, even though many are perfectly viable at latencies as high as 400ms.
As described in numerous Red5 Pro blogs, XDN infrastructure is already used worldwide to support a broad range of real-time interactive video streaming instances involving any number of people receiving and sending video at any distance with latencies in the range of 200-400ms. This is enabling video-rich engagement in applications like watch parties, livestream shopping, gambling, auctions, business meetings, and remote collaborations in engineering design, architecture, training, live event productions, etc.
Indeed, in cases where the distances traversed are confined to a small geographic area, XDN latencies are often reduced to 50ms or less. But XDN operations over 5G connections to Wavelength Zones opens a much broader vista of possibilities when distance restrictions on sub-50ms video connectivity are eliminated.
MNOs Can Now Make a Stronger Case for 5G SA
These possibilities come at a critical time for 5G service providers, which is why other cloud operators, including Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud, are following Amazon’s lead with their own 5G edge strategies. The Wavelength Zone concept is hot, because it helps to short circuit the service limitations imposed by the first generation of 5G infrastructure, known as 5G Non-Standalone Architecture (NSA).
5G NSA functionality relies on existing 4G LTE infrastructure, which has the advantage of radically reducing costs, but the disadvantage of falling short of the promise embodied in 5G SA, which requires a completely new buildout, down to local poles and pedestals. 5G NSA employs software upgrades to expand the control plane functions of existing LTE Evolved Packet Cores (EPCs). These upgrades support 5G radio access networks (RANs), which prevents implementation of widely anticipated 5G capabilities such as slicing, high cell density, and Ultra Reliable and Low Latency Communications (URLLC).
Moreover, many carriers impeded by spectrum allocations that are unable to support full 5G throughput are forced to rely on Dynamic Spectrum Sharing with 4G. This restricts users’ access rates to levels that top out at 20% above 4G access rates in the 30-50 Mbps range, which dampens demand for 5G phones.
But, fortunately, while 5G NSA does not cut the latency contributions of RAN processing to the 1ms level achieved with URLLC, it avoids the multi-second delays of past generations. With ultra-low latency RAN contribution levels reduced to 4-10ms, 5G NSA has finally made it possible to engage in real-time streaming over mobile networks.
For some time to come, the vast majority of 5G operators will be relying on LTE hardware, according to a recent survey conducted by 5G technology supplier ENEA Openwave. So far, as recently reported by The Wall Street Journal, MNOs have found it hard to convince people there’s a compelling reason to upgrade to 5G. A study cited by the Journal found that coverage of two thirds of the U.S. by 5G services that are notably faster than 4G won’t occur until sometime in 2022 or 2023.
But even as raw 5G throughput begins to significantly outpace 4G, the absence of compelling 5G-enabled applications will impede consumer adoption, the Journal noted. This point was echoed by Deloitte in its report on a recent consumer survey, which found that “use cases that demand 5G are not yet available.”
At the same time, researchers tracking the rate of 5G adoption as reflected in smartphone sales are reporting that, with dramatic drops in 5G phone prices, consumers are showing a greater willingness to upgrade to 5G as the best way to replace old phones. The GSM Alliance in its latest report on global trends predicts 5G’s share of mobile internet connections will go from 10% in 2020 to 21% in 2025. Juniper Research forecasts 2025 will be the year when 5G will gain a majority share of smartphone sales revenue.
Given this is the outlook based on the current state of service and applications availability, the market appears to be ripe for a surge in applications that will give people more reasons to see 5G as a must-have service.
5G Can Fuel the Metaverse by Delivering XR Experiences
That’s certainly the case when it comes to the rapidly expanding market for XR applications in the consumer and enterprise domains. The emergence of networked applications of VR technology goes to the heart of developments associated with the emerging Metaverse, where, as discussed in this blog, pervasive use of immersive video technology in everyday life seamlessly merges with experience in the physical world.
A recent report from Grandview Research predicts the global VR market, valued at $15.81 billion in 2020, will grow at 18% CAGR from 2021 to 2028. An even more aggressive projection was issued by Fortune Business Insights, which predicts the global spend will increase at a 44.8% CAGR from $6.30 billion in 2021 to $84.09 billion in 2028.
In the U.S., the number of people using VR at least once a month jumped from 43.1 million in 2019 to 58.9 million in 2021 while the AR user count went from 72.8 million to 93.3 million, according to eMarketer. Globally, a recent report from ResearchandMarkets forecasts the VR headset market will grow at a 28% CAGR between 2021 and 2026.
As reported by Andy Serwer, editor-in-chief of Yahoo Finance, preparations for life in the Metaverse are underway in many areas. “Silicon Valley, media and the world of business are starting to not only pay attention to the incipient Metaverse, but they are beginning to transition into it,” Serwer writes.
Some of this activity is well underway in the digital game world. Serwer cites Roblox (RBLX) and the second oldest player in the space, Second Life, “which bills itself as a virtual world, not a game.” And he notes that smash-hit game Fortnite “is rapidly transforming itself into a virtual world replete with everything from commerce to Ariana Grande concerts.”
Another application for VR in the consumer market centers on delivery of 1800 or 3600 immersive viewing experiences through VR headgear. In the U.S., the NBA has shown the biggest commitment to the technology with dozens of VR broadcasts over the past three seasons. VR coverage of pro soccer is now a regular feature in Europe. In the UK, Sky Worlds is a VR programming service offering regular 1800 coverage of netball, a European version of basketball, as well as Premier League soccer. BT, too, has made VR coverage of Premier League games a regular feature of its services.
MNOs see the extension of live VR coverage to other live events, as well as sports, as a strong selling point for 5G. Verizon, for example, has begun offering 3600 streaming from multiple event venues, including the Indianapolis 500, Liga MX soccer games, the 2021 Oscars, and Live Nation music clubs throughout the U.S. Deutsche Telekom, which has already experimented with VR coverage of music events, has launched an initiative aimed at delivering sports, gaming and other VR content over its 5G network.
Meanwhile, the non-entertainment market segments are shaping up as ground zero in the transition to the Metaverse. The commercial segment alone, which Grandview says includes use of VR headsets in retail stores, car showrooms, real estate, and other marketing arenas, “dominated the global virtual reality market with a share of over 53% in 2020 and is anticipated to maintain its lead for the next seven years.”
Healthcare is the fastest growing of the surveyed sectors, which also include enterprise, aerospace and defense, and the consumer market. Use of VR in instructive training across multiple employment categories, including mechanics, engineers, pilots, soldiers, and technicians in energy and manufacturing, is an especially strong market driver, the report says.
How XDN Architecture and Wavelength Zones Combine to Break New Ground
The sub-50ms latencies attained with use of XDN infrastructure in conjunction with Wavelength Zones for the first time bring the full power of Metaverse-caliber experiences as well as all the other video-rich modes of interactivity into the 5G domain. This unique pairing of the reach of the AWS cloud with real-time interactive video streaming points to the versatility of the XDN platform, aspects to which had to be tweaked to accommodate working in the Wavelength environment.
XDN technology has long been pre-integrated for use with AWS and other cloud services as well, including Azure, Google Cloud, and DigitalOcean. And the cross-cloud capabilities of XDN architecture can be extended to over a dozen other cloud services as well through use of the integration APIs and other tools comprising Hashicorp’s widely used Terraform software stack.
Significantly, the XDN platform is well suited for executing the types of modifications essential to working with Wavelength that can’t be achieved with rigidly designed platform-as-a-service (PaaS) iterations of video communications systems.Unique aspects to how AWS has configured Wavelength and the need to follow its prescriptions relate to things like which communications protocols can be used in the orchestration of XDN Nodes by the XDN Stream Manager; and where the Stream Manager needs to be positioned relative to the Wavelength Zones.
With the integration of XDN architecture into Wavelength operations, XDN Origin and Edge Nodes can be instantiated in any Wavelength Zone worldwide. Any XDN Origin Node hosted in a Wavelength Zone can ingest the cloud-destined video feeds of all the 5G devices served by the AWS partner MNO in that local metro aggregation center. And the streams can be delivered at sub-50ms speeds to any devices connecting to XDN Edge Nodes hosted in other Wavelength Zones. Where and how many Wavelength locations are utilized with the instantiation of a specific customer’s use cases on the XDN platform is worked out in the contract negotiations between the customer and Red5 Pro.
XDN architecture is designed to accommodate unlimited scaling, load balancing and fail-safe operations through the orchestration of Origin and Edge Nodes in combination with any Relay Nodes that are needed to maintain consistent real-time throughput for any given traffic load at any distance. The ability of the XDN Stream Manager to automatically spin up resource capacity as needed overcomes the scaling limitations common to other systems that rely on WebRTC or the Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP) commonly used with mobile devices, both of which are based on the Real-Time Transport Protocol (RTP).
The XDN can also ingest content delivered over the other leading transport formats used with live streaming, including Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP), Secure Reliable Transport (SRT) and MPEG Transport Protocol (TS). Every stream is matched to the capabilities of the receiving device. In these instances, the XDN retains the format while relying on the RTP foundation to reach clients that can’t be served via WebRTC or RTSP. In the rare cases where devices can’t be engaged via any of the XDN-supported protocols, the platform directs streams targeting those devices to HTTP-based streaming via Apple’s HTTP Live Streaming (HLS).
In addition, while XDN architecture does away with the one-way and latency limitations of HTTP-based streaming, it does preserve the benefits of adaptive bitrate (ABR) streaming. In cases where XDN-ingested content is encoded in multiple bitrate profiles emulating an ABR ladder, Edge Node intelligence ensures the content is streamed to each device at the bitrate best suited to device and bandwidth parameters.
Nothing is more important to the tectonic shift promised by 5G than the ability to deliver interactive video streams faster than ever before, which is one of top next-gen mobile communications requirements AWS intended to address with the Wavelength initiative. That box is now checked with the consummation of Red5Pro’s agreement with AWS.
To learn more about XDN technology and how it works with Wavelength Zones contact firstname.lastname@example.org or schedule a call.