With Facebook’s announcement that its new name will be Meta, Mark Zuckerberg captured the zeitgeist of our fast-moving, technology-driven world. Declaring Facebook’s goal to be “the Metaverse company,” Zuckerberg said the company would spend more than $10 billion this year alone on this new virtual universe, which many believe will revolutionize the way we connect.
Facebook is not alone in its pursuit of this visionary idea. Asian companies like SK Telecom are also pushing forward with their commitment to the metaverse. SK Telecom recently announced that it is investing in a virtual meeting platform and a range of backend capabilities, including visual effects/3D animation and production services, which will support new content and services essential to the metaverse.
The metaverse concept is not new, but to many people, it still sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel: a parallel, virtual environment where people can meet and connect using digital avatars. But as we continue to see new advances in virtual and augmented reality – which allow for fully immersive experiences – this fiction is quickly becoming reality.
While we are still figuring out what the metaverse will look like and how it will work, the innovation used to empower the metaverse will rely on super-fast transmission of immense volumes of data, with seamless execution of intelligent processing to augment the user experience. Initially, it will be a key role for service providers to be enablers of the metaverse, using the power of 5G, with all its mobility, superior speed, and throughput benefits, to optimize the requirements of each application – from high priority, low latency connectivity for services like transport and health, to lower bandwidth, lower-cost connectivity for less sensitive transactions. With many CSPs currently transforming networks from physical to virtual, all the experience they gain in areas like decoupling, virtualization, intelligent self-healing, and orchestration will be the very same concepts and techniques that the metaverse will deploy behind the scenes to transform a physical experience like shopping into a virtual one.
Another example of where operators are well-positioned to win is Network as a Service (NaaS), which will enable superior customer experiences by providing network slices with the right configuration of priority, bandwidth, and latency, combined with a sophisticated edge architecture. Operators who invest in the edge will also be at an advantage, utilizing their tower and exchange infrastructure estate to establish distributed data centres for low-latency applications to be deployed.
Global and local connectivity can be used in a mature metaverse as well, allowing users to choose the access network they prefer. The platform may have a home network, but it will need to interface with other global and domestic connectivity partners to reach all users. CSPs have these relationships and can expand them to offer guaranteed connectivity parameters, edge hosting, and RAN sharing for ultra-low latency apps. And other connectivity, such as 5G spectrum (whose licenses are not limited to CSPs), can be used by many industries, including manufacturing and mining, which are procuring their own private networks to run distributed processes, robotics, etc., well. In this situation, CSPs can provide connectivity gateways for networks to enter the global telecoms network.
Service providers 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 will also play a key role behind the metaverse since mediating data close to the source will streamline upstream operational processes. Network data will be preprocessed to remove extraneous information, check for network errors, and trigger network policy enforcement.
As service providers look to monetize the metaverse, they can rely on sophisticated rating, billing and settlement solutions already being deployed to scale and support exponential increases in data volumes and to cross charge for connectivity across communication providers. The data may be aggregated for settlement between the application provider and platform provider, and it may be supplied at a more granular level for end subscriber charging and reporting.
While Asian operators are taking a proactive leadership role in building the metaverse, the concept is still in its early stages. As such, operators must think about where in the services spectrum they would like to position themselves. The opportunities for innovation are abundant, and if CSPs can seize the moment, they too can become a “metaverse company.”
By Haifa El Ashkar, Executive Director Corporate Strategy, CSG