The Dawn of the Metaverse and New Digital Frontiers

From 5G and gigabit optical networks to AI infrastructure & more, what can 2021 teach us about future tech tends?

By Peng Yugguo, Huawei & Xing Jingfan, Huawei
HUAWEI TECH 2022 Issue 02

What can ICT developments in 2021 tell us about the future?

Regarded by many as next-generation Internet and the successor to today's mobile Internet, a battle of imagination is underway as companies seek opportunities in the metaverse. It may be early days, but what is certain is that the emergence of the metaverse will accelerate the development of ICT infrastructure. 

What we can learn from 2021 

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1. The continuing evolution of commercial 5G

Over the next five years, China is expected to transition from the introductory phase of 5G to one of large-scale expansion. 5G standards will also continue to evolve.

On November 13, 2021, UNISOC announced at the E-surfing Smart Ecosystem Expo that, based on China Telecom's 5G SA network, it had completed testing E2E 5G network slicing services on the cloud phone e-Surfing One 2021, indicating that 5G network slicing was technically ready for commercial use. Network slicing can be viewed in a similar way to dedicated bus lanes on roads – each subscriber to the slicing service receives a dedicated line that ensures smooth, jitter-free access for things like live streaming, watching videos, or gaming.

At the same expo, Qualcomm demonstrated 8K video backhaul using the 5G mmWave large uplink frame structure, achieving an uplink rate of 930 Mbit/s. 5G mmWave technology is regarded as the foundation of the ultimate 5G experience and its technical characteristics make it best suited for large open spaces. 

At Xiamen Yuanhai Container Terminal, the combination of a 5G network, the BeiDou satellite navigation system, and driverless technology powers autonomous container trucks and automated rubber-tired gantry cranes. Few workers are seen onsite and the trucks do not require a cockpit.

To support new types of services and the future development of networks, 5G standards have continued to evolve and 5G-Advanced standards are expected soon. On December 22, 2021, China Mobile and Huawei held the Launch Event of Wireless Innovation in 5G-Advanced Dual-chain Convergence. They announced the results of their research into 5G-Advanced (5.5G) dual-chain convergence, forecasting a tenfold increase in the capabilities of existing 5G networks and new capabilities that will meet diverse consumer demand.

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2. Accelerated deployment of gigabit optical networks

The ultra-high bandwidth of 5G has brought a smooth mobile network experience to consumers, while wired networks still dominate home scenarios. In 2021, China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) issued its Action Plan for Coordinated Development of "Dual-gigabit" Networks (2021-2023), which sets out the specifications and direction of broadband development in China. In the same year, the MIIT issued the Information and Communications Industry Development Plan for the "14th Five-Year Plan", which calls for the acceleration of extended deployment of optical transport network (OTN) equipment to integrated access nodes and users.

Aligned with these policies, China Unicom Beijing announced its plan to be the first carrier to offer FTTR gigabit-level connectivity in Beijing using the only networking technology that can support 1,000+ Mbit/s whole-house coverage. Optical fibers can be deployed in every room, closing the gap between the access rates of the network and what users actually experience. This product is especially suited for large apartments, duplexes, and detached houses, representing the best choice for high-end residential network access. 

Following this, China Telecom and China Mobile launched FTTR gigabit optical network solutions in 11 provinces and 10 cities. To date, telecom infrastructure companies have deployed 5.5 million 10-Gbit/s passive optical network (10G-PON) ports, and more than 220 million households now have access to gigabit optical networks.

In addition to providing a higher-quality experience to homes, gigabit optical networks underpin enterprise digitalization. Currently, there is great demand for premium OTN private lines among enterprise users in a number of different industries. By 2025, 85% of enterprises will have migrated to cloud, and will in turn require high-quality and high-bandwidth networks.

The commercial application of F5G in the primary sector has been accelerating. In the October 2021 release of the Regulations on Intelligent Coal Mine Acceptance (Trial), the National Energy Administration encourages the use of F5G in the wired backbone networks for mines. F5G has also made its way to rural areas, with AirPON deployed in more than 3,000 villages across the country. The solution benefits more than 10 million villagers and has enabled new business models and ecosystems to thrive, including digital husbandry, digital tourism, and digital orchards.

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3. Deepening cloud-network convergence

As commercial 5G and enterprises accelerate migration to cloud, the industrial Internet is rapidly developing. 

On March 23, China Unicom released the CUBE-Net 3.0 network innovation system in Beijing. CUBE-Net 3.0 features stable architecture, all-optical switching, scalable high bandwidth, and one-hop cloud access for all services. Services can be flexibly migrated to cloud in multiple ways, including PON, IPRAN, and OTN, while automated O&M management and E2E slicing allow a single network to support multiple differentiated services.

At the 2021 International Digital Technology Exhibition & E-surfing Smart Ecosystem Expo, Ke Ruiwen, Chairman of China Telecom, spoke of the need to build digital information infrastructure that can deliver high speeds, ubiquitous access, wired-wireless integration, cloud-network convergence, intelligent agility, energy-efficiency, and controllable security. This infrastructure will serve as the foundation of a digital China and facilitate digital government. And its most prominent characteristic will be cloud-network convergence.

For cloud computing service providers, cloud-network convergence can boost service capabilities and quality. Before they upgrade their data centers, the networks that connect cloud data centers to each other and to users need to be upgraded. For network operators, cloud-network convergence can lower procurement and network deployment costs and facilitate service innovation.

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4. Deeper IPv6 transition

5G, cloud computing, big data, AI, and IoT applications will all be IPv6-based in the next decade.

By late September 2021, IPv6 accounted for 22.87% of all traffic running on mobile communication networks in China, reaching the set target of 20% ahead of schedule and indicating that IPv6 in China has advanced to the extent of increasing traffic. As the Three-year Special Action Plan for Increased IPv6 Traffic (2021-2023) issued by the MIIT and Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) is implemented, the ICT industry will address issues like the limited adoption of IPv6 in commercial Internet applications, IPv6's lack of support for home devices, and the inadequate service performance of IPv6-based application infrastructure.

Huawei's IPv6+ technology, which has been developed on top of IPv6, enhances network intelligence capabilities and supports the intelligent identification, analysis, control, and O&M of network connections. Incorporating technologies like SRv6, network slicing, on-flow detection, innovative multicast, and application awareness, IPv6+ can bring enterprises the benefits of deterministic networks, quality assurance, application awareness, service visibility, and controllable security.

5G and cloud computing have triggered a new wave of new infrastructure construction that will sit on the foundation provided by IPv6 and related standards. IPv6 is a major area for global competition in next-gen commercial Internet application solutions and Internet evolution.

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5. AI as infrastructure

5G, cloud, and AI are regarded as the three engines of the modern ICT industry. Integrating AI into digital infrastructure and implementing national AI strategies are both clear global trends. 

In April 2021, Huawei released the Pangu Model. The Pangu NLP Model represents the industry's first model of Chinese natural language processing (NLP). To train it, the development team used 40 TB of text data, including general and domain-specific text. Featuring hundreds of billions of parameters, it ranks top of the total Chinese Language Understanding Evaluation (CLUE) index. The Pangu CV model is the first solution to extract models on demand, where different-sized models can be extracted depending on the scenario. The scope can be dynamically adjusted on demand, ranging from specific and small to complex and large. The solution also supports comparative learning based on sample similarity, making it the industry leader in terms of few-shot learning on the ImageNet database.

The Pangu Model can help solve the problem of standardization and makes AI capabilities available on-demand to SMEs, so they can focus on innovation and their core businesses. 

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6. Open-source operating systems for digital infrastructure

In addition to basic AI models, the ICT industry has also seen major breakthroughs in basic software, at the core of which sits operating systems (OS). The OS also serves as the core of computing systems and determines the level at which digital infrastructure can advance. At the Operating System Industry Summit 2021, Huawei announced that it would donate OpenEuler to the OpenAtom Foundation. OpenEuler is an open source operating system that supports the full range of digital infrastructure scenarios, including IT, CT, and OT. It can be deployed on servers, cloud computing, edge computing, embedded systems, and various types of devices.

The donation means that OpenEuler has evolved from a Huawei-led open source project to a more decentralized project, which many developers and coders can contribute to and which is independently managed by the community.

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ICT trends in 2022

In 2022, the growing demand for digital innovation will drive the upgrade of digital infrastructure in three main ways:

First, China's industrial Internet will develop at a faster pace. To date, four national-level industrial Internet industry demonstration bases in China are being constructed. A total of 258 pilot demonstration projects have been selected, and 31 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities have issued industrial Internet development policies. This requires the ongoing optimization of digital technologies to meet the needs of the industrial Internet, including communication protocols for the industrial Internet and data ingestion and monitoring systems based on IoT technologies.

Second, China's pursuit of carbon peak and carbon neutrality goals will accelerate national energy transformation. Since China announced its targets of reaching peak carbon by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2060, major enterprises in the energy industry have drawn up energy transformation roadmaps and action plans. The ICT industry needs to support this by developing technologies to help the energy industry improve efficiency and cut emissions, as well as making efforts to minimize the emissions of the ICT industry itself.

Third, the wide adoption of ICT has made the security of critical information infrastructure a key issue. In 2021, a number of laws and regulations were adopted to ensure the security of information infrastructure. These included the Regulations on Critical Information Infrastructure Security Protection, Data Security Law, and Personal Information Protection Law. As the ICT industry creates the underlying infrastructure for the digital development of other industries, zero-trust mechanisms must be adopted to ensure security. Therefore, the implementation of data security regulations in various industries will become a major area of focus.

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In conclusion

Huawei is committed to accelerating the inception of new information infrastructure and application ecosystems, supporting the digital transformation of the economy and society, and driving the ICT industry to support global development.