What Will the Metaverse Be?
Science fiction has had a way of becoming science fact in the last century or so.
From laser guns and robots to voice control tech and the Internet, it’s becoming more and more commonplace as our collective knowledge and innovation churn out new inventions in record time.
The latest of these is the concept of the metaverse, defined loosely as a 3D version of all of our combined digital technologies to date; everything from the Internet to games to virtual reality experiences, live-streaming, social media, email, cryptocurrency, and more.
It’s not the easiest thing in the world to define the metaverse right now because it doesn’t actually exist yet. Different thought leaders have different ideas about what it should look like, who should lead its creation, and what its specific purposes should be.
It should be of little surprise that futurist Ray Kurzweil has been talking about the metaverse for more than a decade, charting a roadmap toward an event he describes as “The Singularity” where machines become smarter than humans and where we won’t need controllers, a mouse, or VR goggles to engage with the digital world - it will be as simple as the power of thought. That technology sounds more than a little ways off, but it won’t be for a lack of effort. Some of the biggest names in tech today are already slapping trademarks on everything they can and making all sorts of multi-tiered alliances like they were competing houses in “Game of Thrones.” Not surprisingly ,the most recognizable face at the top of this heap is Facebook creator and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who is already pushing the envelope on VR technology with his series of Oculus headsets.
In his third-quarter earnings call on August 2021, Zuckerberg pulled no punches on his company’s future, saying, “I expect people will transition from seeing us primarily as a social-media company to seeing us as a metaverse company.” Considering Facebook is so synonymous with social networks that it was the star of a movie called “The Social Network”, that’s some pretty big talk from a guy who typically delivers what he promises. Of course, the rest of the tech-savvy world isn’t just going to sit back and watch Facebook corner the market on what could be mankind’s biggest leap forward since the arrival of the Internet itself. Nvidia Corp. is promoting its own Omniverse platform as the guide for the metaverse’s eventual framework, but Unity Software wants the same thing. Toss in big-time players like Microsoft, Epic Games, Roblox, and ByteDane, which owns TikTok, and you can see that things are going to get crowded in a hurry.
However, while the big players race to get to the head of the class in the development phase, the biggest roadblock is the lack of ultrafast, low-latency Internet capability that would make such an environment possible.
4G speeds are perfectly capable of giving users around the world what they want from video conferences and Internet browsing, but mobile carriers around the globe are aware of the metaverse’s potential and don’t want to be left out of the bonanza; hence their obsession with reaching 5G speeds.
In February 2021, Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile - the United States’ three largest mobile carriers, spent $81.2 billion in an auction to purchase C-band spectrum, which will be crucial in nationwide 5G network success. Some experts think that even global 5G coverage isn’t going to be enough to harness the power of the metaverse, and that another incarnation - a so-called 6G will be required to make the metaverse a reality.