The telcos are all about the metaverse – even if they’re not sure what it is

the telcos are the metaverse
SK Telecom's "4D Metaverse" ride at MWC22 that looks suspiciously like another VR 3D rollercoaster demo. | Image credit: Tony Poulos

ITEM: If we learned anything from this year’s “comeback” MWC event in Barcelona, it’s this: (1) telcos are giddy about the metaverse, and (2) few of them seem to really understand what the metaverse is. Yet.

MWC 2022 has already established itself as both a relatively successful comeback and proof that hardly anyone cares anymore about the usual MWC topics of choice: 5G, new smartphones and complaints that Google isn’t regulated as much as telcos are. Not that those aren’t important or relevant topics – they’re just old news. We know 5G is rolling out and it’s a big deal, etc and so on – but the hype is gone, and telcos are busy trying to make it work in real life.

Meanwhile, delegates (especially the younger ones) are more interested in what kinds of digital service innovations are coming down the pipeline. Which is why the 4YFN start-up section turned out to be the star attraction this year – at least for regular DA contributors like Jouko Ahvenainen and Richard Windsor, who found plenty to admire there – and most of it not directly related to mobile.

The same could be said of the metaverse, but as Ahvenainen mentioned in his wrap-up, plenty of telcos and traditional suppliers were talking about the metaverse almost every chance they got – and in most cases it seemed like they were talking about it mainly so they could be seen talking about it as though talking about it puts them on the bleeding edge of technology.

Telefonica went as far as to appoint Yaiza Rubio as its chief metaverse officer, who will spearhead the telco’s metaverse strategy, whatever that eventually turns out to be, CNBC reports:

“We are thinking about [what] should be the role of a telco like Telefonica in this new evolution,” Chema Alonso, Telefonica’s chief digital officer, told attendees at MWC.

“We don’t know yet. But for sure, we are going to be analyzing this very carefully … because we believe that this movement is unstoppable.”

The one thing telcos seem to be sure of is that the metaverse involves VR – which is perfect because it gave them a chance to bring back updated VR rides and demos that they had been showcasing a couple of years back (mainly to promote 5G, for which VR has been considered to be a killer app of sorts), CNBC continues:

At HTC’s stand, visitors were invited to put on the Taiwanese company’s Vive headsets and walk around a virtual museum. They could also walk around in a small pen while exploring a desert landscape in VR.

Over on the Qualcomm booth, you could get cooking lessons or swat giant 3D insects. Orange was inviting people to climb the Notre-Dame Cathedral in VR with Meta’s Oculus Quest 2 headset.

I remember trying demos like these a few MWCs ago, and while the tech is better today, it’s still VR goggles rebranded as “the metaverse”.

The thing is, as we’ve written here before, VR is not “the metaverse”. VR will be one part of the metaverse, which at least conceptually is supposed to be a vast interactive digital ecosystem that will be as close as we can get to a digital twin of the real world.

The reality may in fact amount to VR rides, games and concerts, in which case the telecoms sector may seem ahead of their time to historians 50 years from now.

But my hunch is that whatever the metaverse turns out to be, it’s not what we’re thinking right now. And it wasn’t what was being showcased at MWC 2022. And whatever role telcos play in the metaverse, it may be little more than providing the pipes to connect it all together. At least that seems to be what Mark Zuckerberg thinks.

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