Industry Voices

Traversing the metaverse: an aging Hitchhiker’s Guide

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CSPs are well-positioned to play a key role as both the enablers and the participants of the metaverse, but to survive in 10 years, they need to act now. In her second piece for Capacity Media, Haifa El Ashkar, executive director of corporate strategy at CSG, explains

Our reality is getting a shake-up. While the Vogons are not destroying Planet Earth to make way for an intergalactic bypass, the metaverse will turn our earthly routines and the way we interact and collaborate upside down. Because the metaverse – a parallel, virtual, fully immersive and fully persistent environment where people can meet and connect using digital avatars – is growing in popularity, it will be essential to understand how to navigate it.

This seemingly science-fiction concept will soon become a widespread norm, especially for younger generations. But never fear, as you will not need to navigate this new digital world alone: here is my hitchhiker’s guide to the metaverse, for us earthlings, for enterprises, and for communications service providers.

Don’t Panic! Destination Metaverse: A New Social Reality

Today, my young daughter lives and breathes the metaverse daily with avatars she has curated using virtual currency, that she either earns while playing Animal Crossing, a social simulation video game, or “Minecoins” that she has me purchase for her to enhance her Minecraft experience. My daughter is content in the virtual world, interacting and making new friends online. While we were all complaining about Covid lockdowns, my daughter and her friends were happily engaged and building their own virtual worlds. With that in mind, it is no surprise to see gaming at the forefront of technology and use cases for the metaverse.

While the metaverse is now the hottest buzzword, some of us were living in virtual spaces with virtual currency and storefronts nearly 20 years ago through an application called Second Life. Yet, my nine-year-old is teaching me to open my mind to a new social reality. Gen X may have predicted this all-virtual world in works of science fiction, but it will be Gen Alpha that fully boards and steers the metaverse spaceship. Their young minds are primed to be virtual-native, and they see fewer mental obstacles to making connections and learning in digital, non-tangible spaces.

Beyond virtual entertainment and socialising, the metaverse opens new doors for more productive, all-digital workplaces, more accessible education, more engaging brand experiences and marketing, and for entirely new industries. But before we can hitch a ride on the spaceship, we must build it!

The Heart of Gold: A Guide for Business in the Metaverse

You won’t need a Babel Fish to understand the value of the metaverse for the enterprise bottom line. Some estimates suggest the metaverse could be worth over $1.6 trillion annually by 2030. According to Grayscale, the market opportunity for bringing the metaverse to life may be worth over $1 trillion in annual revenue.

It starts with a strong demand for extraordinary customer experiences. As a result, the ‘experience’ has become the primary value driver in the modern world and the metaverse. Emotions and experience increasingly dominate economic relationships, and consumers are hungry for those that are engaging. For enterprises to establish themselves and thrive in the metaverse, they must embrace innovation and creative flexibility. Why? Because experiences, interoperability, and collaboration will be the three keys to realising the full potential of the metaverse.

A virtual concert held by singer Travis Scott within Fortnite in 2020 marked an inflexion point, heralding the emerging dominance of the virtual medium. VentureSource reported: “Nearly 30 million people spent nine minutes fully immersed in his music. This included committed and casual fans, non-fans and people who didn’t even know he existed. There is no other experience on earth — including the Super Bowl half-time show — that can deliver this degree of reach and attention.” Now businesses from Spotify to Gucci to JP Morgan are establishing a presence in the metaverse, with creative and engaging experiences (over sales) as the modus operandi. A positive and enrapturing experience in the metaverse translates directly to brand goodwill and value as well as customer loyalty.

Metaverse Participants & Enablers

There are two types of enterprises in the metaverse: participants and enablers. Participant companies like the ones I just mentioned are setting up, interacting, and transacting in the metaverse, while enabler companies are building it or building for it.

The metaverse enablers provide infrastructure (think connectivity, hosting telecom providers), interface (think hardware like VR headsets or brain-machine interfaces like Neuralink), cloud-based platforms (centralised and decentralised gateways, digital twin technology, crypto, non-fungible tokens), and experience platforms (discovery applications, centralised gateways, play-to-earn and play-to-collect applications). Along with a golden opportunity for a long-term, lucrative future in the metaverse comes a fierce battleground at every level. The ones that come out on top will be those that herald collaboration, interoperability, co-opetition, and experience on all levels. The metaverse is a symphony, and every part will need to harmonise and adjust to orchestrate the ideal experience and unlock maximal value.

For these businesses, collaborating with the telecommunications industry could prove the most beneficial relationship of all to drive ecosystems in both the physical and virtual worlds.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide for Telcos: Last Call

Think of the telecom industry as the Infinite Improbability Drive powering The Heart of Gold, keeping the ship speedy and safe from harm. The metaverse and its participants will rely heavily on communications service providers (CSPs) to provide an unbroken connection and lightning-fast operating speeds. The good news is that the opportunity does not stop there.

The metaverse will be born from telco foundations, but will the telcos grow up to be Kodak or Fujifilm? The former sputtered out after failing to keep up with the digital revolution, while the latter stayed nimble to adapt to new demands. For the past decade, telcos have faced (and survived) the evolve-or-dissolve challenge, and we are now at another turning point. CSPs are well-positioned to play a key role as both the enablers and the participants, but to survive in 10 years, they need to act now.

While we know CSPs as the providers of connectivity, they now need to look beyond and into the creation of dynamic and scalable ecosystems and digital orchestration. This will be made possible through new business models and ways of bundling services (e.g., Network as a Service) on top of the acceptance of co-opetition (aka, collaborating and ensuring interoperability with competitors) to propel seamless experiences and agree on a set of standards. Here, mastering ecosystems and dynamic orchestration in the physical world can pave the way for success in the metaverse.

5G will be to connecting enterprises in the metaverse similar to what 4G was for connecting individuals on social media and mobile apps. 5G is at the very inception of its journey, and we can reliably say that it will serve as the very foundation of the metaverse – the jet fuel of the ship. Without its low latency and high speeds, a fully immersive digital world simply cannot exist.

Back to the physical world, for a second: 5G relies on significant infrastructure, including slices and edge locations, to ensure that every user is as close as possible to a connection point and the signal doesn’t need to travel all the way back to the mothership. By building up this 5G infrastructure and drawing on local and global connectivity, CSPs are ensuring a powerful and unbroken connection that creates the portal to this new world of possibility.

If CSPs don’t move fast enough to deploy 5G and begin work to enable the metaverse with a like-minded ecosystem of collaborators, others will step in to do so for them. The metaverse is an inevitability that will happen with or without CSPs. If they don’t adapt now, disruptors and external players will step in and say, ‘so long, legacy players, and thanks for all the fish!’

At the end of the day, we don’t have the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. We don’t know exactly what the metaverse will look like or what opportunities lie in store. But we do know that it’s coming toward us with unstoppable force, and it’s up to each person, enterprise, and CSP to forge their own path within to maximise value. So, grab your towel and don’t panic: it’s time to hop on board.

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