In front and to the sides there are old masonry walls. You are trapped in an Egyptian temple. Or maybe maya. Until suddenly you see the lever to your left. In the end it has appeared, after turning its head like a radar station, with your virtual reality glasses. You grab it with the help of a controller and pull it so that one of the walls opens. It is the first test of an escape game (escape room ) and it’s inside the Vodafone metaverse.
To create this virtual world, Vodafone has collaborated with the companies Optiva Media and Virtual Voyagers, which participated in the construction of the Facebook metaverse. It is already operational with restricted access and will be launched to the general public in the first half of 2022. The concept, a pioneer in Spain, follows the path initiated by other international telecommunications providers.
In South Korea, operator SK Telecom launched its metaverse last summer, which it intends to extend to at least 80 countries. The American Verizon has also launched initiatives related to this technology, such as a search for objects that could be done through virtual or augmented reality. At the same time, in China, the main telecommunications companies have partnered with other technology companies to create an industrial group dedicated to these virtual worlds.
The idea is that these spaces are interoperable with each other. At least that’s the perspective that Vodafone has. “If the metaverse is closed, in the end Facebook will build its own, Microsoft its own. That makes no sense. What makes sense is that in the end everything converges, as a single Internet, ”says Marta de Pablos, 5G Marketing Director at Vodafone Spain. For greater usability, the company will allow access to its platform with virtual reality glasses, but also with an intelligent terminal (smartphone), like Horizon, the Facebook platform (Meta).
All these movements show the interest of the operators in the new technology. The companies in the sector have been working on it for some time, but without that name. “Before 2021 we weren’t talking about the metaverse as a concept. We were talking about immersive content, virtual reality, augmented, but not metaverse ”, explains Michaël Trabbia, CTIO of Orange, referring to the boom after the announcement of Meta.
Telefónica also admits that it is working on related technologies, although nothing progresses yet. For the company, the operators will be essential in the deployment of this technology for a simple matter of connectivity. All telco coincide in highlighting this aspect. “With fiber and 5G it is clear that we are building the networks that are necessary for any metaverse,” says Trabbia, who adds that 4G may not be enough to support these platforms.
A way to make 5G profitable
For operators, this tool can become a formula to obtain income from the 5G networks they are deploying. The cost of fiber and antennas is onerous. GSMA Intelligence estimates that between 2020 and 2025 the industry will spend $ 1.1 trillion on infrastructure. Of this figure, more than three-quarters will go to 5G.
Part of this connectivity can be used for the operation of metaverses. “In the future we will be able to sell network capabilities,” says de Pablos. “We can use the network as a service.” It refers to charging a specific fee to providers so that the experience of its users is fluid. This means charging Meta (when it publicly launches Horizon), but also a company that sets up a store on Horizon.
This will be the most obvious way for operators to earn revenue from the technology. Another is to get into the applications level. Vodafone tries it through the front door. “We believe that we have to participate in the creation of that layer of services. And push the ecosystem so that developers can create it. We believe that we have to be creative agents of the ecosystem ”, indicates de Pablos.
In the Vodafone metaverse you can find applications of tourist destinations, which can be visited through virtual reality, video games or platforms to do and see concerts or shows. This is the result of collaboration with the creators, Optivia Media and Virtual Voyagers, but the operator expects to attract more than 200 developers in one year.
The idea of the company is not to remain on the sidelines of the applications that will be developed for the metaverse. “If we are left alone to exploit connectivity and the network, there will always be others who develop the applications that are used,” says Pablos. This was what happened before the emergence of 4G, when the big technologies, such as Google or Facebook, created the services that are most used today and which are also highly profitable businesses.
At Orange they are also interested in applications. “At the moment our strategy is not to develop a metaverse platform,” says Trabbia and emphasizes that the company for now is focused on “providing infrastructure, such as connectivity, to distribute and add services to our customers, as well as potentially distribute hardware for metaverse to our clients and think about services that we can provide to our clients ”in these new universes.
A Bloomberg Intelligence team estimates that the metaverse market would generate almost 800,000 million dollars in 2024. Between this year and 2030, this market will grow 41.7% annually, according to Market Research Future. They are juicy figures that operators do not want to miss.
From Vodafone they indicate that they are still considering options to obtain income from their metaverse platform. They contemplate the subscription, which would allow access to certain services, or payment for use, such as enjoying a virtual concert. In any case, it will not be the only formula to make 5G profitable.
The sale of 5G network capabilities to companies, industry, logistics, public administration, will be the main way to make 5G profitable. “The metaverse can be a plus and a new opportunity. But often, in the history of mobile telephony, when you decide to invest in a new technology you don’t know exactly what it will be like. killer application (what was WhatsApp to smartphones). I believe that the most innovative in 5G and in all new technology is what we will be able to do with it ”, says Trabbia.
De Pablos is convinced that metaverses will be part of the future of the Internet. Although now they are mostly a promise. “We believe that everything has to have a ramp, because they are very immature technologies today. What we want is to start from the beginning and be a creative part. As it takes shape, we will contribute more and more resources ”, he concludes.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.