What the heck is ‘metaverse’ and will it affect wireless carriers?

One day you’ve never heard the term “metaverse,” and the next day you hear it three times. What is this new craze, and will it affect telecommunications?

Metaverse is like the internet on steroids, where instead of just reading text and watching videos, technologies such as 3D and artificial intelligence will allow participants to interact in virtual “universes.”

The term “metaverse” was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash, where humans, as avatars, interact with each other and software agents in a three-dimensional space, according to Wikipedia.

The first industry to really create metaverse-type environments is, not surprisingly, gaming. But the pandemic propelled the metaverse as a way for musical artists to engage with their fans.

For instance, pop superstar Ariana Grande recently partnered with Fortnite for a unique in-game experience billed as “a musical journey unlike any other.”  The focus for the tour was on creating engaging environments and graphics.

RELATED: Ariana Grande Joins Metaverse Through Fortnite Tour

What does this have to do with wireless carriers?

The metaverse phenomenon will give wireless operators the chance to monetize their 5G investments.

With super-fast 5G — and later 6G — people will be able to participate in metaverses by using augmented reality headsets or glasses. In the future, the metaverse may include immersive experiences via holograms. And although the metaverse phenomenon is starting with entertainment, it could evolve to include other activities such as online shopping, where shoppers would feel like they’re actually in a store.

RELATED: Verizon’s 5G labs test holographic medical imaging

Verizon is already exploring metaverse opportunities. It has 5G labs in six cities where it invites companies to flesh out some imaginative enterprise and consumer use cases for 5G, such as holographic medical imaging.

A Verizon spokesperson said, “The purpose is to provide access to our 5G service and our edge cloud computing service (developed with AWS and Microsoft) to various partners in a variety of industries and support them as we build "killer apps" for consumers and businesses that run on 5G.”

The metaverse might end up being the best opportunity for “killer apps.”

Verizon already dabbled in the metaverse at the 2021 Super Bowl where it offered a virtual 5G stadium in Fortnite Creative. The experience let fans come together and interact with their favorite NFL players via games. The virtual stadium was built to highlight Verizon’s Ultra Wideband 5G network.

SK Telecom

South Korea’s SK Telecom earlier this summer launched a metaverse platform called “Ifland,” which is initially focused on the virtual meeting space.
Users can also open metaverse rooms via an app. They then choose from 18 different types of virtual spaces, including conference halls, outdoor stages and rooftops.
After selecting a virtual space, users can customize the decoration of their rooms and select virtual avatars and emotional expressions to engage in rich communication with others.
Each virtual room can accommodate up to 130 participants, and SKT plans to increase the number of participants so that Ifland can support large-scale conferences joined by hundreds of people. The platform also includes a social networking element.

SKT plans to expand Ifland to hold large-scale events such as lectures, festivals and concerts.