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If you are a video game enthusiast or a sci-fi supporter, the idea of metaverse has most likely crossed your mind. This innovative term is a combination of the prefix "meta" (meaning beyond) and "universe". Hence, it is typically used to describe the concept of a world where anything we can imagine can exist. Powered by the internet and virtual assets, it will be made up of shared 3D virtual spaces where people can come together to interact, engage, transact, and build upon a digital version of life.

With big tech companies like Microsoft and Facebook making a big noise about metaverse, the claim that a virtual reality universe is the future of the internet is yet to be proven as true. As the world becomes more interconnected than before and the COVID-19 pandemic pushes people to go digital in all ways possible, a universe beyond the physical realm seems enticing.

It took years for nearly 80% of humans to use landlines, automobiles, personal computers, and cellphones — and this will be a similar approach when it comes to jumping into this new world. To work, a global metaverse requires global internet availability and low-latency infrastructure where roughly 50% of the population currently obtain.

A fully realized metaverse needs to be global to ensure that everyone can benefit from another revolutionary phenomenon in the “information age.” As the metaverse is an always-on digital space powered by the internet and open standards, its potential is starting to get unveiled in different industries. It may be evident in games, but telecom as well would be impacted positively in the years to come.

Key aspects

There are many small metaverses today but a dominant one that reached billions of users has no clear date of arrival. Yet, the momentum is building up as its vision encompasses a thriving digital economy. Leslie Shannon, Nokia’s Head of Trend Scouting, referred to the importance of the metaverse, or spatial internet, as the culmination of everything that augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) is developing today. “It’s the idea of taking information about things, locations, or historical events and actually locating that information out there in the world where it’s most relevant.”

In its entirety to function, three key aspects are highlighted: presence, interoperability, and standardization.

  • Through the use of various VR-tech-powered devices like headsets, the feeling of actually being in a virtual space is achieved. This sense of embodiment highly improves the quality of online interactions. Immersive VR technology aims to completely give the impression that a user has stepped into a synthetic world. Its progressive growth and development will continue to make lasting impacts on our technological culture.

    According to a VR research team, to establish a presence — a person's subjective sensation of being there in a scene — a wide field of view (80 degrees or better), adequate resolution (1080p or better), low pixel persistence (3 ms or less), a high enough refresh rate (>60 Hz), optical calibration, and rock-solid movement tracking, are needed. 

  • Interoperability, which is commonly heard as well in telecom’s network architectures, means being able to seamlessly travel between virtual spaces with the same virtual assets. It should be as easy and convenient as moving from one website to another, but with the complexity of having a highly connected society, this brings up a huge challenge.

    From a computational and business point of view, this must be addressed to ensure that virtual economies can work efficiently — regardless of the point of presence. Developers must produce content and software that is compatible across multiple platforms to construct a persistent and continuously evolving metaverse. The importance of interoperability comes within the fact that no single entity could own the metaverse and in order to provide a safe and comprehensive experience to users, valuable data and business intelligence must complement one another.

  • Without standardization, it will not be possible to instill interoperability of platforms and services across the metaverse. As with other ICT technologies, common technological standards are essential for widespread adoption. The metaverse would be a massive communal cyberspace that would require standardization and cooperation among tech giants and developers.

    If we can come up later on with a common ground where all have their own unique characteristics and the underlying infrastructure ideally operates, high-quality connectivity can extend to every corner of the globe. As a result, a metaverse can become a place for equality and representation, where all participants have the freedom and chance to benefit from a new virtual world.

How metaverse influences telecom

As of August 2021, GSA confirmed the number of launched 5G networks stands at 176, with a presence in 72 countries and territories. This figure is expected to grow as 461 operators in 137 countries/territories are investing in 5G, including trials, acquisition of licenses, planning, network deployments, and launches.

Mobile carriers poured billions of dollars into 5G networks which is why it is not surprising that they are betting on a futuristic concept that can give them a fair share of returns in time. GSMA Intelligence predicts $720 billion worth of spending on 5G networks between 2021-2025 globally.

Telcos have actually started to delve into metaverse-based platforms that combine multiple technologies to bring the internet to life. Why so? Because 5G and metaverse go hand-in-hand. Sarah Gilarsky, a Verizon business development lead said that “what 5G is going to do is really turn that metaverse experience into something that reaches out into your daily life.”

Recognizing the business potential, China Mobile, Verizon, and SK Telecom have jumped to build platforms founded on blending the digital world with real-life environments. Seeing a win-win situation, operators could potentially be earning $712 billion in revenue by 2030 if they introduce such innovative 5G applications. Taking this into account, while cutting-edge metaverse applications are still at the conceptual stage, once they become a hit, various ICT players such as service providers, MVNOs, and cloud hyperscalers can take advantage of the demands for fast connectivity, data storage, and reliable connection.

While it’s tough to estimate how much metaverse-related applications will generate in the long term, early metaverse uses such as enhanced and immersive media will account for 40% of the 5G-enabled application market by 2030. In relation to this, Fuad Siddiqui, a senior partner and vice president of Nokia Oyj’s research arm Bell Labs, commented that telcos would need funding partners to pull these platforms off as they continue to heavily invest in 5G over the next couple of years.

Service providers and developers together could also join forces to integrate interoperable communication functions that would accelerate deployments, ease maintenance, and connect users to an unlimited number of potential services. Moreover, providing a turn-key 5G solution would allow virtual service providers to keep focused on their business core while transparently connecting to both physical and virtual worlds. 

As we have learned to understand, the metaverse phenomenon will give wireless operators the chance to boost 5G’s adoption and monetize their investments in place. This can be done by getting involved in the internal communication landscape as well as collaborating with external enterprises that wish to deliver the best hybrid experience to their customers.

Sooner than later, 5G (and 6G) will drive the next-gen connectivity, not only here on Earth but also on its parallel universe.
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