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Intelligence Brief: In focus, metaverse and enterprise digital transformation

The dusk of 2021 is marking the dawn of a new buzzword in telecoms and technology: metaverse.

Tech giants are betting big on this upcoming trend and its potential, to the tune of Facebook rebranding itself Meta Platforms.

Here we look at whether metaverse is hyped or has the actual potential to transform the digital space. We also look at how operators are acting swiftly to play a key role in the digital transformation of enterprises.

Did you know?
There are more than 30 million results available if you type metaverse into Google.

The recent buzz around the metaverse, driven partly by Facebook’s rebrand [1], helps to explain some of the above numbers. But what exactly is the metaverse? There is no universal definition available and there are multiple versions from different lenses floating on the internet. Based on the available definitions, I have attempted to identify the key features, which encapsulate the meta-universe.

First, the metaverse is nothing new, but an expansion of the existing applications to create an immersive and real-world alike experience for the user.
An existence of life in the digital universe.
Use of immersive tools to live and experience life in a virtual world.
A decentralised universe where people have more control over their things, follow their own rules and have the power to create their own world.
Open-ended interfaces and interoperability of tools and assets in different metaverse worlds.

Some major announcements which triggered the recent buzz are listed below:

2 November: Softbank Group’s Vision Fund 2-led investor group ploughed $93 million into Sandbox, metaverse gaming.
2 November: Microsoft announced Mesh for teams, a service for meetings where you can send your digital twin.
28 October: Facebook rebrands to Meta Platforms to reflect its commitment and investment into the metaverse.

Is it overhyped?
The concept of the metaverse is not new. Author Neal Stephenson introduced it as a fictional concept in 1992 and hints are already reflected in games including Minecraft, Roblox and Fortnite. Ultimately, of course, it all depends on how you define the term.

To me, it is just a term attributed to the evolution of our existing digital world where we already have a presence in some form. The entry into the internet world marked the beginning of this digital universe journey where we are hitting new milestones with every technical advancement, and the metaverse is one such milestone envisioned. In 2020, the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic accelerated the digital evolution for many people. It’s no surprise, then, to see adoption of the term metaverse move to the fore in 2021.

But everything envisioned and possible does not necessarily shout viability. With the advent of 5G, remote surgery was once envisioned as one of the key use cases in healthcare. It is possible today, but has made its way out from the list of viable use cases due to lack of mass demand and scalability issues. Similarly, the Metaverse today also faces some unique challenges.

mobility and the comfort challenge with bulky VR headsets, expected to be used for immersive experiences.
interoperability b/w different metaverse worlds for seamless experience is a much bigger challenge.

So, why are the tech giants still trying to be the frontrunner in the race and betting big on this trend?

Well, this is the future of the digital universe. And, in the tech world, it can take years (sometimes decades) of R&D for an innovation/idea to come to life and be embraced as mainstream. Hence, it’s better for these players to get involved at the conception stage. As for the telecoms and tech industry, an opportunity waits to be unlocked, as the entire concept of the metaverse rests on the ultra-fast and high bandwidth connectivity requirements and the development of apps and devices toolkits.

And, while all this happens, in the here and now it is worth living and believing the hype.

Digital transformation of enterprises
Did you know?
GSMA Intelligence research [2] shows the average contribution of B2B services to operators’ revenue (based on reported data of selected operator groups) reached 30 per cent in 2020, up from 17 per cent in 2017. The stagnating/declining revenue from core (traditional) services makes a case for enterprise revenue to be the future driver of growth, and 5G is expected to unlock myriad enterprise opportunities for operators.

The pandemic caused a leap (by several years) in digital adoption for consumers and enterprises, resulting in a growth in demand for enterprise services offered by operators.

GSMA Intelligence’s Enterprise in Focus survey highlights security solutions and cloud services experienced the maximum growth in demand. To this end, a range of announcements from operators demonstrates they are acting swiftly to cater to this increased demand by teaming with cloud/IT vendors, and creating dedicated business units for enterprise offerings. To highlight few such announcements:

9 November: Indosat Ooredoo collaborates with Google Cloud to accelerate digital transformation across enterprises.
5 November: Microsoft and Vodafone Business partner for enterprise digital transformation of SMBs across Europe.
4 November: Fastweb and AWS partner to accelerate SME digital transformation.
1 November: Oracle and Orange collaborate for cloud-led digital transformation in West Africa.
17 October: Zain Group launches ZainTech, a dedicated unit to offer enterprise digital solutions

So what?
Even before the pandemic, 5G was touted to drive the digital transformation of enterprises and create new revenue opportunities for operators. The pandemic only accelerated this process. At the same time, new cloud native technologies and solutions in the 5G era and the need for edge solutions in support of enterprise use cases means a new vendor ecosystem is emerging beyond the traditional vendors.

One result? Co-opetition. For example, where cloud/IT vendors act as competitors of operators in offering cloud services and solutions to enterprises, 84 per cent of operators (based on survey sample data) claimed they are teaming with these cloud/IT vendors to offer complete digital solutions to enterprises.

A recent announcement from AWS about planning to sell its own private 5G network to enterprise customers corroborates the above.

What pose as challenges for operators (lack of internal expertise and resources) in the deployment of cloud native solutions is brought as an area of expertise by the cloud/IT vendors. It is, therefore natural to expect these partnerships will only bloom in the days to come. The earlier, the better for all.

After all, 5G is not a one-person show (not just about the traditional vendors), it’s about working together.

The above analysis is based on news curated by GSMA Intelligence’s team of analysts and taken from their Industry Updates feed, available here [3].

– Radhika Gupta – head of data acquisition, GSMA Intelligence

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.


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