The race is on – tackling the Metaverse opportunity

04 January 2022 | Haifa El Ashkar

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Haifa El Ashkar

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The metaverse will converge and build on what already exists, while tapping into evolving technologies like sound waves, to transform this into a new fully immersive, persistent, and sensory environment. Haifa El Ashkar, executive director corporate strategy, CSG, writes

The concept of a metaverse has existed since the 1980s. But it has taken until now for the metaverse to reach its formative years of becoming literally a virtual reality, a utopia where users interact in a fully immersive, persistent and sensory environment.

Many of the components of the metaverse already exist and are maturing through both technology evolutions and cultural adoption. For years, people have relied on social media platforms – which have become more immersive and video-driven over time – to share experiences with their friends and networks. At the same time, society is becoming increasingly preconditioned to interact in the virtual world and augmented environments – from Siri and Alexa to video filters and the virtual worlds created in gaming apps. Even enterprises have looked at how they can use AI to evolve the customer journey and provide seamless omnichannel experiences. In the metaverse, these intelligent journeys will be integral to every app and experience, making recommendations and conversing with users through both language and non-verbal signals.

When looking at the physical world, it may be many years before robotics and devices become mainstream and provide the full immersive, sensory experience promised by a true metaverse, but 5G will drive a leap in hardware design. The edge will allow not only faster data transmission, but enable application components previously bound to a device because of latency to now be stored on the edge – enabling slimmer and more flexible device forms. Rules surrounding data sharing in the metaverse will also be complex, but the groundwork for regulations and protocols are already being carried out.

The metaverse will converge and build on what already exists, while tapping into evolving technologies like sound waves, to transform this into a new fully immersive, persistent, and sensory environment. All of this will rely on super-fast transmission of immense volumes of data, with seamless execution of intelligent processing to augment the user experience. 5G and network slicing will underpin its evolution.

The Race is On

So, how will the metaverse operate?  Will there be one metaverse, a thousand, or an infinite number? Will we go to virtual work campuses, malls, cities for entertainment, shopping and cultural experiences? Will building architectures evolve to accommodate virtual rooms and pods? Will we attend the 2032 Brisbane Olympics Metaverse from a virtual stand in Reykjavik to watch the BMX Freestyle finals and will the 2052 Olympics see the games themselves played virtually?

The answer may very well depend on the codes of practices and regulatory obligations surrounding the different industries (for instance, healthcare versus sporting events). Either way, we will see experimentation of every kind, taking in all these scenarios and more than we can imagine today. Over time this will establish the key roles of the metaverse, along with the operating and commercial roles and interoperability standards needed to create a healthy ecosystem of seamless experience.

The battle for establishing the dominant central platforms is being played out today, with initiatives announced from Facebook (now known as Meta) to SK Telekom to Fortnite. There may be different models to serve different applications, such as a specialist consortium coming together to provide a virtual global hospital. They may deploy their own platform or rent a tenancy on an established environment so that they can focus expertise on the application, not the delivery technology. Multi-tenant platforms also open an opportunity to collaborate and share data between tenants to upsell and co-sell across a unified catalog of bundled services.

These B2B2X business models will be at the heart of many metaverses and will add to the customer experience with AI, machine learning and customer journey orchestration anticipating their every want and offering through these platform allegiances.  

The CSP Opportunity

Some CSPs, like NTT Docomo and SK Telecom, who have had success in monetising 3G and 4G content, may again take a central role in deploying a metaverse platform and are actively progressing their ambitions. However, other CSPs have learned from failed 3G walled gardens and 4G proprietary entertainment services that the investment needed to endlessly create and deliver content is rarely sustainable. Instead, they are looking for other ways to support and participate in the metaverse economy.

A key role for CSPs will be as an enabler of the metaverse, using the power of 5G, with all its mobility, superior speed and throughput benefits, to optimise the requirements of each application category. With many CSPs currently transforming networks from physical to virtual, all the experience they are gaining in areas like decoupling, virtualization, intelligent self-healing and orchestration will be the foundation of the metaverse. These include:

Network slicing

Network as a Service (NaaS) will be key to experience enablement. Providing network slices with the right configuration of priority, bandwidth and latency, combined with a sophisticated edge architecture, will provide the ultimate customer experience.  

Edge computing

Operators are taking advantage of their tower and exchange infrastructure real estate to establish distributed data centers for low-latency applications to be deployed.

Global and local connectivity

In a mature metaverse, users will choose the access network they prefer. So, while the platform may have a home network, it will need to interface to other global and domestic connectivity partners to reach all their users. CSPs have these relationships and can also expand them to offer guaranteed connectivity parameters, edge hosting and RAN sharing for ultra-low latency apps.

Other connectivity

5G licenses are not limited to CSPs. Many industries, including manufacturing and mining, are procuring their own private networks to run distributed processes, robotics and the like. CSPs can provide the know-how to manage these private networks as well as the hooks into the mainstream telecom networks when needed. 

Orchestration and activation

CSPs are experts at complex order management, decomposition, workflow and fallout management. These processes will require seamless automation, using zero-touch processing to upgrade and downgrade connectivity for an application in real time to meet performance agreements. 

Data mediation

Mediating data close to source will streamline upstream operational processes. For example, network data can be preprocessed to remove extraneous data, check for network errors, and trigger enforcement of network policies.

Rating, billing and settlements

CSPs collect the data volumes needed to cross charge for connectivity across communication providers and have processes in place already to invoice and settle with each other. They also collect the usage data for applications themselves and usage across application providers. This data may be aggregated for settlement between the application provider and platform provider and may be provided at a more granular level for end subscriber charging and reporting.

Business applications

With their advantage of being closest to the customer interaction, the CSP can also facilitate local business processes such as payments, reporting and analytics.

While the role of the CSP in the metaverse will evolve and take many forms, it will be essential for providers to embrace the concept of partner ecosystems and network as a service.  With that mindset, they can bring many of their other core competencies to the metaverse and serve as the foundation for enabling the future of virtual human interaction.