In part three of this three-part blog series, we look at what telcos are doing in the metaverse space and give our recommendations for future development.
Telecom operators can utilize the metaverse to charge for using special services, content, or premium SLAs either to the end-user or the enterprise offering services on the metaverse.
For example, if a user wants to test drive a new car, they can first try it out on the metaverse. For this to happen flawlessly, the car company may bear the cost of the special network slice. Similarly, if the users want a flawless experience in e-sports in the metaverse, the user can pay extra for this as a premium service1.
Either way, telcos operators have a strong role to play.
Here are a few interesting telco-led initiatives:
1. SK Telecom (South Korea). SK Telecom launched its metaverse platform Ifland in July 2021, focusing on services like ‘Social VR’ and ‘Virtual Meet-up’, built for the 5G era2 The Ifland metaverse domain had more than 1.1 million monthly active users (MAU) by the end of 2021, which is quite impressive given that the platform was only launched in July. In its first month, it had a MAU (monthly active user) base of 280,000. The average time spent on the platform in January 2022 nearly doubled compared to the first few weeks of operation – 61 minutes compared to 26 minutes in its first month. This is in line with the operator’s vision to transform itself into an AI and digital services company. The telco has said that there was now “great attention” towards Ifland from businesses, with more than 1,500 requests for partnerships3.
2. Deutsche Telekom (Germany). Deutsche Telekom is aiming to bring SK Telecom’s metaverse to Europe4. A new partnership will see SK Telecom (SKT)’s Ifland metaverse platform made available in Germany. The deal will see the pair carry out a live trial of the platform before the end of the year 2022, with the goal of co-creating virtual content for the European market. The test will reportedly include the creation of a virtual space within Ifland modeled on a specific German city. If initial tests prove successful, DT and SKT will consider setting up a metaverse JV to expand the platform’s reach throughout Europe. The two companies have been discussing the European launch of Ifland since March 20225.
3. e& (UAE). SK Telecom signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with e& to jointly promote a metaverse project in the Middle East region. Through the MOU, SK Telecom and e& agreed to jointly promote a metaverse project in major countries where e& provides telco services such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia. This could include making a city or building that represents the UAE into a virtual space within the metaverse, or developing and providing digital costumes and exclusive avatars that reflect the culture of the Middle East. The two companies plan to analyze the experience and usage behavior of subscribers of e&’s telecommunications service and verify the marketability of their metaverse service based on the results6.
4. KT Corp. (South Korea). KT Corp. established the “Metaverse One Team” in June 2021 with nine other participants, including mixed reality content company Dilussion, video technology provider WYSIWYG Studios, and the Korean VR AR Industry Association7. The group will collaborate on metaverse technology to foster the local industry and expand such services8. It has landed a partnership with Shinhan Bank to develop 23 projects related to artificial intelligence (AI), the metaverse, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). KT also joined a broader cross-industry alliance in metaverse technology, which includes non-tech companies such as auto giant Hyundai Motor Co9.
5. Orange (Luxembourg). Orange Digital Center Opened within the “Luxembourg Metaverse”. In July 2022, Orange announced its latest Orange Digital Center (ODC), in Luxembourg, which will focus specifically on the metaverse. This space will be dedicated to both digital innovation and skills development. Through this virtual ODC, Orange wants to invite economic actors and start-ups to discover the possibilities offered by the metaverse. From this space, the operator wishes to explore the opportunities of innovation to accompany start-ups. At the heart of this virtual Orange Digital Center, visitors will find a wide variety of content such as conferences related to technological innovation. It will have other content aiming to explain what the metaverse is to raise awareness about the dangers and possibilities that this environment represents10.
6. NTT DoCoMo (Japan). Japan’s NTT DoCoMo has developed a new metaverse technology (January 2022) that can make characters in a 3D online world mirror the movements of their users. They include facial expressions – when users blink or smile, for instance, their avatars do the same in real time. The technology also allows users to synch their body movements with their avatars – punching and kicking are mimicked. This feature can help improve customer services and it can also liven up online events11.
7. China Mobile (China). China Mobile Communications Association’s Metaverse Industry Committee was launched in October 2021 to assess the national industrial policy and strategy for metaverse developments in mobile communications. Its members include China Mobile and China Unicom. China Mobile streaming subsidiary MiGu, and HTC Vive are working to jointly develop a 5G+ high-quality Metaverse ecosystem (Sep 2021)12. “Yi Dong Yun” VR is a product launched by China Mobile to focus users on viewing VR content online and the online experience of VR games within the metaverse13.
8. AT&T (USA). AT&T and esports organization 100 Thieves have joined forces to launch the AT&T Station, a virtual reality space located in the VR platform VR Chat (Oct 2021). The virtual experience is AT&T’s first foray into the metaverse, and 100 Thieves’ first experiment in digitizing its lucrative apparel lines. The AT&T Station experience is deeply immersive, taking the form of a series of virtual rooms surrounded by water and a starfield invoking images of outer space. There are two levels, enabling users to set up camp around virtual hot tubs and campfires or grab a box of VR popcorn before entering a screening room featuring Warner Media properties such as The Suicide Squad. Users could also enter the AT&T Station metaverse during the 2022 NBA All-Star Game (Feb 2022)14.
9. Vodafone (Turkey). Vodafone Turkey is preparing to open its first store in the metaverse. The Vodafone Metaverse Store will open in Decentraland and offer customers the convenience of accessing Vodafone products and services in the virtual universe. This will be the first store opened in the metaverse among Vodafone Group countries. Vodafone Metaverse Store will have special areas for hosting campaigns of Vodafone’s brands such as Red and FreeZone, as well as areas for environmental, social, and governance initiatives. The company’s personal digital assistant Tobi will welcome visitors to the store15.
10. Telefónica (Spain). Meta announced that it is working with Telefónica to establish a Metaverse Innovation Hub in Madrid to help accelerate metaverse network and device readiness through efforts like trials, use cases, and device testing16. Part of that hub will include a place for startups and developers to access a 5G laboratory where they can use a metaverse end-to-end testbed on Meta and Telefónica’s network infrastructure and equipment. Local startups and developers will also benefit from Telefónica’s open innovation ecosystem and Innovation and Talent Hub Resources, and Meta’s engineering support, tools, and resources17.
11. Verizon (USA). Verizon and Meta have entered into a “first-of-its-kind strategic partnership” to explore a range of metaverse opportunities (Feb 2022). Together, Verizon and Meta plan to develop a platform equipped to handle the core streaming and rendering capabilities needed for metaverse applications. Verizon’s collaboration with Meta will explore how Verizon’s MEC infrastructure can deliver intensive XR cloud rendering and low latency streaming. Both companies will aim to measure the impact of edge computing on key application performance metrics and evaluate where network capabilities can enable more powerful metaverse-optimized applications18.
In September 2021, Verizon entered the metaverse with an AR treasure hunt game “H1DD3N” for Apple devices, allowing users the chance to win an iPhone 1319.To win prizes, treasure hunters must navigate the AR environment to find a hidden “number 13.”20
12. MTN (Africa). MTN, in March 2022, announced that it was purchasing 144 plots of virtual land on Africarare – a virtual reality metaverse launch in October 202121. Africarare is the first virtual reality metaverse in Africa. The investment is part of its commitment towards supporting new African innovations and noted its intention to expand its customer base through web 3.0. This is in line with MTN’s Ambition 2025 strategy – leveraging trends that amplify consumers’ digital experiences and engagement. Through its presence in the metaverse, MTN intends to increase its customer attraction through a series of experiences merged with consumer passion points, like gaming and music.
These few initiatives were just a small snapshot of the major developments currently underway in the metaverse by telcos. This momentum is only going to catch speed in the times to come.
Conclusions & Essential Guidance for Telecom Operators
- The move to the metaverse is an unprecedented opportunity for the connectivity industry.
- It must be built on a foundation of openness and interoperability, and be accessible to as many people as possible.
- Making the metaverse a reality will require significant advances in network latency, symmetrical bandwidth, and overall network speeds.
- No single company or industry can do this alone. Creating the metaverse will require a global effort and telcos need to invite partners to collaborate with them on this new journey.