Peeling away the layers of the metaverse

The metaverse will feel like a hybrid of today’s online social experiences, sometimes expanded into three dimensions or projected into the physical world. It will let you share immersive experiences with other people even when you can’t be together—and do things together you couldn’t do in the physical world.

The above is how Facebook, now Meta, defines the metaverse.

In simpler words, the Internet has evolved over the years, growing in sophistication, connections, and technologies. Its upcoming evolution could spawn a world where users can drive deeper relationships, meshed within the economic implications. This world is what we understand as the ‘metaverse.’

The actual term ‘metaverse’ was coined by Neal Stephenson in his science fiction book Snow Crash, published in 1992, to reference a 3D world where humans could interact using avatars. Facebook is one company building a metaverse, as are other giants such as Decentraland and The Sandbox.

While still an ephemeral concept, the metaverse is talked about excitedly in some circles with its potential to leverage 5G, VR, AR, and AI in a much more profound manner. Some reports estimate that the metaverse market will surpass US $1.5 trillion by 2030. This is apart from the US $100 billion market opportunity of metaverse-friendly gadgets and wearables. Many are making investments to understand this space and prepare for the possible opportunities it unlocks. The use cases for gamers are already exploding, and this will most likely be the first frontier for the metaverse.

What can one do in the metaverse?

Borne from the evolved applications of AR and VR, the metaverse represents a kind of converged virtual 3D world that integrates aspects of the physical world and other digital interactions. Users have avatars that can execute actions – real and imagined.

Since the pandemic, much of user experiences and lives have shifted online, giving impetus to the concept of a metaverse. Here are some possible things you can do in a metaverse:

  • Create compelling 3D spaces to showcase new products, allowing customers to experience them through AR/VR devices. Nike has already invested in Nikeland, its virtual shopfront that sells digital sports merchandise and sports fashion for avatars of users in the metaverse.
  • Build interesting avatars of users based on their different personas and metaverse interactions.
  • Plan trade shows, concerts, and art festivals where businesses and customers can interact and even execute deals. For instance, Warner Music Group is partnering with The Sandbox to develop a hybrid musical theme park and concert hall to organize immersive music experiences hosted by top celebrities like Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Cardi B, and more.
  • Create next-gen remote workplaces where employees can punch in, attend meetings and training, and collaborate and converse with other meta-employees. For example, a Danish architecture company has designed a virtual office on the Decentraland metaverse for employees at Vice Media Group. Employees can work out of this new ‘headquarters’, meet meta-mentors, and collaborate with their colleagues across the globe.
  • Develop meta-enabled schools that align with recognized syllabi and curricula whereby students and teachers can extend the concept of online learning beyond eLearning apps by providing immersive remote education. A Florida-based school called The Optima Classical Academy is building a metaverse school where over 1000 students can choose their courses, attend live VR-based tutorial sessions using issued Oculus headsets, and experience subjects like world history and astronomy like never before.
  • Buy/rent homes, stores, and property, build a community of neighbors, and transact and work in the metaverse. For example, a crypto investor bought virtual estate worth US $2.4 million in cryptocurrency in Decentraland, the most expensive purchase recorded by the metaverse platform.

What makes the metaverse unique is that, unlike most virtual reality worlds that are static, the metaverse keeps changing. Each interaction creates data that can be leveraged by businesses and organizations to evolve the metaverse and fine-tune each experience. The applications of AR and VR in the metaverse are unlimited, and many organizations are exploring how they can create new revenue streams or enhance customer experiences through the metaverse. Considering that Facebook already has 2.8 million users globally, imagine the depth of opportunities possible if all of these users could engage in the metaverse and interact in real-time, virtually.

The role of 5G in the metaverse

Building these complicated spaces in the metaverse will require unprecedented download and upload speeds and robust infrastructure, most of which may center on telecom networks. We can expect to see AR/VR applications maturing to include the sense of touch, smell, sound, and more. 5G is the only network technology that can support the massive digital files needed to create such an experience and the speeds at which information and transactions flow through the metaverse.

Thus, as metaverse-enabled technologies evolve, mobile operators have a critical role to play through their investments in 5G, multi-access edge computing, and network slicing. Many are already investing in high-bandwidth and low-latency networks for countless real-time use cases across gaming, surveillance, defense, etc. Looking ahead, they ought to consider building viable business models that allow them to go beyond merely provisioning infrastructure to provide holistic products that can be consumed by metaverse users, such as fraud management and digital identity solutions (for businesses) and wearables and digital avatars (for users).

A prelude to the risks in the metaverse

However, risks lurk behind the shadows. Termed as a potential “scammer’s paradise,” the metaverse is nascent and heavily unregulated. As a result, fraud, piracy, crime, and governance issues loom large. For instance, cryptocurrency may very well be the most popular form of currency for users to transact in the metaverse, despite cryptocurrency crime reached an all-time high of US $14 billion in 2021. Thus, securing the metaverse needs to be a top priority for telecom providers if they are to build customer trust.

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