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The hype around the metaverse has been gaining ground recently. How does this trend impact the telecommunications and ICT industry? Nurettin Cetinkaya, CTO, Middle East, Nokia MEA answers this question in an exclusive interview with Telecom Review.

The metaverse is expected to be more competitive than social media both in terms of data exchanges and monetization opportunities. What does this mean for the carriers and how can they be ready for this paradigm shift?

Let’s first define what we mean by metaverse. Despite being one of the latest trends, the metaverse was first coined in a sci-fi novel back in 1990s and was envisioned as a new paradigm of the internet which would revolutionize human relations and provide a disruptive paradigm for human-machine interaction. Metaverse has become a key trend, but it is important to quantify that. Metaverse can simply be a consumer metaverse which is used for social interactions, gaming, entertainment or even shopping. It can also be in our workplaces where it is used for collaboration, training, and even digital co-design which forms an enterprise metaverse. In the world of operational technologies for industries, industrial metaverse comes into the picture to provide safety, efficiency, and productivity.

Trends across digital media and advertising, immersive, hybrid workforces, and evolutions in technology (i.e., 5G advanced and upcoming 6G) are all coming together to change how we consume content, work, access services, and communicate. These changes will create tremendous demands on networks and computational resources. Beside the readiness of their networks, CSPs should now move to identify potential opportunities, collaborate with content creators and partner with hardware companies to develop compelling propositions for consumer and enterprise markets.

A range of actors are already increasing their efforts towards metaverse including hyperscalers and CSPs. One good example is SK Telecom which launched Ifland, a Metaverse platform designed to maximize user experience through diverse virtual spaces and avatars. Besides this, SKT has pledged to expand this to holding large-scale events such as lectures, festivals, and concerts. With several companies launching their own metaverse platforms, success may depend on attracting as many users as possible through themed events and customized services. Accordingly, SKT plans to offer special programmers and content, such as fan meetings with K-pop stars and social media influencers.

SKT managed to grow to more than 1.1 million active monthly users by the end of 2021. Looking at B2B opportunities, SKT reported more than 1500 requests for partnerships. As these numbers underline, there is great interest for virtual platforms within both the consumer and enterprise worlds. Therefore, now is the right time to look at how CSPs can play a role in these applications and what strategies they should pursue.

How will digital twin technology play a role in IR4.0? And how can Nokia help?

Digital twins started out as virtualized representations of physical things. In many cases today that’s still how they’re used, for everything from aircraft engine design to building systems for monitoring and optimization. But what if we could perform non-destructive large-scale experiments within a digital copy of everything?​ A digital twin can essentially be an abstraction of any “thing” used to achieve a goal or outcome based on the analysis of a purpose-defined data set. Bringing together hardware, software, and data, digital twins enable engineers to optimize the design and operation of a product or service in real-time. Digital twins build on AI, IoT, and software analytics to create living digital simulations that interactively update and evolve with their physical counterparts. To make this possible, connecting physical and digital in almost real-time becomes quite crucial.

As the digital twin becomes a mission-critical capability for industries, connectivity requires special attention. 5G with an evolution to 5G-Advanced are steppingstones to achieve full capability of the digital twin. As a leader in 5G, Nokia provides dedicated 5G private wireless and network slicing based solutions to bring reliable, low-latency connectivity to every inch of industrial operations. Nokia recently deployed the world’s first 5G Edge Slicing solution on a live commercial network with Cellcom and Telia Finland. Our innovative solution is available now and enables operators to provide 5G Virtual Private Network services on 5G public networks as well as enabling services like the digital twin.

Interactions in metaverse will require large bandwidth, high reliability and low latency. How can CSPs effectively address these areas?

It is obvious that metaverse generates more demand on the network because it implies a heavy usage for volumetric video, processing, transmitting (downstream and upstream) and rendering (immersively), also including an intensive usage of AI for implementing the merge of realities in real time.

CSPs in the Middle East are the early adopters of 5G networks which puts them in a strong position to support user engagement, develop new services and revenue streams, and collaborate with content and app ecosystems to accelerate the adoption. This fast pace of metaverse adoption will have an impact on mobile traffic and capex which requires readiness. As Nokia, we will bring advanced features to further improve the immersive experiences with 5G Advanced that will come by 2025. Our collaboration with AT&T to improve their 5G uplink with distributed massive MIMO is an example of it. Moreover, by the end of the decade, the arrival of 6G technologies could enable further advances to achieve virtual and physical fusion.

The rollout of high-quality, reliable 5G with an evolution to 5G Advanced networks is therefore the main pathway for operators to carve out a position in the metaverse ecosystem. Besides the mobile connectivity being the platform, there are network innovations like edge computing and slicing that operators could use to capture new value from metaverse growth areas.

CSPs are inherently at an advantageous position to enable highly interactive Metaverses with their network and edge cloud infrastructure. How should they leverage this capacity?

High-capacity and low-latency connectivity is key for a fully-fledged metaverse to succeed. Real-time updates of the graphical elements of immersive mixed reality worlds in response to how people are interacting with them is quite crucial.  Local real-time rendering could make it possible to meet such tight latency constraints. This is where edge cloud plays a role to serve as both a resource computing platform and a mobile network capability platform that can host metaverse platforms.

Besides the latency, customer experience is key to make metaverse a success. Innovations like network slicing can be onboarded to provide metaverse services with the required network resources to ensure network availability to enable immersive experiences.

CSPs have been positioned strongly with their 5G investments and assets to offer the required edge cloud environment. With these capabilities, CSPs will be a natural partner of metaverse platform providers and become part of the metaverse value chain.  To achieve this, CSPs should envision their edge cloud and network slicing strategies to be ready for the metaverse era which is on the horizon.

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