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MWC2024 learnings – part 1: Metaverse is dead, long live the Metaverse?

The Oulu team participated in the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona last week with companies, and there is a series of articles coming up where I aim to shed light on some key observations from these major fairs that bring together a large number of experts in digital technology, wireless communication, new applications, and new trends from companies, research institutions, academia, and elsewhere.

It is probably clear that “the M-word,” Metaverse, is one topic. Or is it really? The talk about the Metaverse has been going on for years, and like all major technological concepts that touch almost everyone, it has perhaps been hyped too much. New concepts have been created around it, and it has been linked to, for example, NFTs, etc. A vision of a genuine immersive experience has been crafted. There have been created very attractive expectations of rapidly implementable systems because there is a desire to explore opportunities for new growth, markets, funding, and to motivate different stakeholders to be interested based on the current product portfolio as well. This is human nature. This has happened many times before and will undoubtedly happen again in the future. The headline is provocative, but read on, perhaps you will agree. The headline is also a quote from an expert panel at the MWC fair.

The panelists in the session were: Amy Pech from, Muki Kullhan from Muki International Ltd, Cai Felip from Union Avatars, and Said Bakadir from Qualcomm.

The core message of the panel was as follows: The Metaverse has defined much, perhaps too much, and too early in the technology discussion until generative AI came into the spotlight about 18 months ago. Its disruptiveness and concreteness were so high that it partially took over the general conversation from the Metaverse, emerging as the biggest technology trend and, in a way, also helped to see the concept of the Metaverse more clearly. Big concepts need time to evolve and mature. For example, the smartphone, when first released, was very different from the smartphone we know and use today. Similarly, the internet. It’s a learning process that is strongly tied to technological advancements. From a technology hype perspective, generative AI has a clear strength. It entered into widespread discussion directly with a concrete, widely available high quality product, and we now see the technology rapidly advancing into various applications and industries. Technology landscapes are by no means comparable, but it can be stated that the Metaverse concept has not been able to achieve a similar impact.

However, the panelists were optimistic. For example, Qualcomm has been working for decades to develop high-performance platforms for virtual experiences. The first platforms for virtual activities became available about 15 years ago. However, only recently has the technology evolved into a true enabler. Only now do we have processors with sufficient performance, high-quality interfaces from both hardware and software perspectives, and only now are the telecommunications connections becoming powerful enough to support the creation of applications with genuine added value. According to the panelists, Mixed Reality is likely the strongest concept, as it provides context, and technologies like spatial computing have made significant leaps in recent years. In the last two years, extremely high-performance cloud-edge technology has been developed, and as 5G-6G technologies continue to advance, the experience becomes even more immersive.

But still, we don’t have the most crucial aspect. There is no clear picture of what we want in general. Therefore, it would be essential to define the strategy by which the world is progressing towards the metaverse. The Metaverse Standards Forum is doing this work now, as well as national forums. This is happening right now in Finland and even locally in Oulu. Based on this work, content priorities can be established, resources can be directed, and a path towards more extensive compatible platforms can be developed. On the other hand, higher-quality private platforms designed for specific purposes can also be developed, providing added value, for example, to a single larger company and its subcontractors in the value chain.

The panel also addressed issues related to identity, cybersecurity, and other challenging themes in the metaverse, emphasizing a shift towards a more cohesive e-identity in a situation where everyone naturally wants to control their identity. This technology, too, is not yet fully developed to the point where it can be applied more broadly. An interesting observation that stuck with me was the following statement: “3D is challenging for people.” This is amusing because we ourselves exist in 3D, but we have been taught since ancient times to prefer looking at and experiencing 2D products, various screens, magazines, surfaces, etc. Perhaps this relearning process will also take time.

So, what is needed now? 1) Belief that the metaverse is a real concept that will happen and 2) patience because defining the overall framework, especially determining priorities and making collective choices, takes even more time than the actual development of the technology. I am personally a believer in the metaverse, and I found this panel to be very enlightening and insightful. Overall, the role of the metaverse at the fair had diminished compared to previous years, and the panel convincingly explained the logic behind this trend. It should be emphasized that this panel was not the only one that reached this conclusion. For example, Meta and a few other tech giants held their own events at the fair, largely reaching similar conclusions, although conveniently marketing their products.

Everyone defines the sufficient level of immersion based on their own needs and perspectives. I have personally tried many devices, systems, and various applications. I haven’t encountered true immersion per se, but undoubtedly, technology has made significant strides forward. I believe that by integrating today’s cutting-edge technologies, it is possible to create astonishing and genuinely value-adding experiences for various individual use cases. I admit that when I attend events hosted by major tech companies to try their revolutionary demos, the experience is often still somewhat disappointing. Human senses detect even the slightest lag, and invariably, there is some lag and imperfection. However, the situation is better than ever before and constantly improving.

At BusinessOulu, the metaverse is consistently on the desks of the ICT team and others, viewed from various perspectives. Our companies have a lot to offer in terms of various individual elements of the metaverse, and it’s crucial that we understand the changing and evolving nature of the metaverse. It’s rarely worthwhile for small and medium-sized enterprises to tackle massive problems; business evolves in the small details of big concepts and in private applications tailored to specific businesses or use cases. We are approaching a moment where the metaverse (which might ultimately have a different name) as an evolved VR/AR/XR environment becomes the default for various activities in our work and lives. Not as a hype but as genuinely value-producing dimension of digital presence.