Will we see growth in the metaverse similar to the World Wide Web back in the 1990s? One source shows that there were fewer than 3,000 websites in 1994, but just five years later, there were more than three million, and being “on the web” was essential to many businesses.
The internet’s growth in the 1990s was fuelled by rapid technological changes, growing customer expectations, and evolving business models, among other factors.
It required a radical shift in IT functions, and during the past two decades just about all businesses came to need software development, integration, data, analytics, customer experience, automation, and e-commerce capabilities to remain solvent.
The question is, which businesses will require a similar transformation to support the metaverse? Which will need to leverage underlying technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality, and nonfungible tokens (NFTs)? And over what timeframe?
If you’re a cloud or tech company or have a large-scale e-commerce or entertainment business, chances are you already have teams building or innovating technologies needed for the metaverse. But even industries slower to adopt new technologies, including healthcare, manufacturing, construction, or education, will have to consider their strategies and timing to be metaverse-ready.
That begs the question of what technologies will help businesses get ready to support the metaverse. The choices will depend on business objectives.
Many tech, e-commerce, entertainment, and industrial companies will create the infrastructure and experiences to support a metaverse and will need infrastructure, user devices, software, and an AI stack to achieve these goals. Others will be content creators or participants in one or more metaverses and will need flexible content, commerce, and data strategies.
Scalable infrastructure and networks
Organisations developing metaverse technology and platforms must consider the infrastructure and network performance, scalability, and security requirements. For example, a 4K virtual reality stream requires a 500Mbps download speed, and metaverse services will need to scale their networks to support the number of active users. Industrial applications and others impacting human safety must also consider latency factors.
How can businesses plan for this scale? Ram Mallikarjuna, chief strategist at Akamai, says, “Distributed platforms with highly scalable and secure edge computing technology will be a critical need for businesses looking to leverage metaverses, as the edge already plays a role in processing and delivering high rates of personalised content in real time at extremely low latency.”
Nadir Ali, CEO of Inpixon, agrees and adds, ”Device-centric and edge computing capabilities not reliant on on-premises or cloud servers will make it possible for new applications to be created in the metaverse. Another example is the technology enabling wireless connectivity. High-bandwidth, high-speed, secure wired and wireless network infrastructure will also be required for many metaverse applications.”
AR, VR, and emerging devices
The metaverse is synonymous with AR and VR experiences. But any devices connecting the physical and digital worlds with sensory inputs and visual outputs are possibilities. Other technologies include optical finger navigation, watches for the metaverse, and other wearable fashions.
New devices will require advances in software, data processing, and machine learning to improve visual, auditory, and physical sensory inputs.
“The metaverse presents an opportunity to more fully transcend our physical limitations,” says Anand Srivatsa, CEO of Tobii.
“Technologies like eye tracking will play a critical role in helping reduce the need for compute and networking power, which are required to deliver lifelike, immersive virtual environments. Eye tracking will also help users express their attention and intent in more realistic ways when they’re in the digital universe.”
Ofir Zuk, co-founder and CEO of Datagen, adds, “With AR/VR as its foundational medium, most of the innovation we’re going to see in the metaverse will come from the field of computer vision. It will depend upon large volumes of photorealistic, targeted training data.”
So, developing applications and content for the metaverse will require a review of AR, VR, and other emerging device technologies and go beyond today’s web and mobile experiences.
Strong dataops and integration capabilities
If human-digital devices enable the experience, and infrastructure supports metaverse-scale interactivity, then it’s how real the experience feels to users that will be the primary innovation and differentiator.
To start, organisations will need strong dataops capabilities, and machine learning models will likely require synthetic data generation. Zuk continues, “Businesses looking to make waves in the metaverse usually begin by establishing a robust data pipeline—with synthetic data as the primary resource driving the development life cycle.”
Bart Schouw, chief evangelist at Software AG, agrees. “This year and beyond, leaders will begin to realise the value of the metaverse, but first, they should invest in real-time data ingestion and analytics now, as both are paramount to the success of the metaverse and its overall accuracy.”
Creating enticing metaverses and virtual worlds
With data coming in, developers, data scientists, and user experience specialists must create a virtual world that captivates users.
Virtual experiences to support office collaboration may not require the same level of sophistication as entertainment but may be more important for long-term hybrid work programs.
Virtual conferences and higher education metaverses have more UX complexities and will likely see rapid evolution during the next few years. Companies like Gather, Teamflow, Virbela, and others compete in the virtual office technologies space, and they definitely see competition from Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple, Zoom, and other big tech companies.
Manufacturing, construction, smart city, and other industrial applications of metaverse technologies may be the most technically challenging but offer significant opportunities. These metaverses will require real-time Internet of Things data streaming, digital twins, and advanced machine learning models to connect virtual and physical systems.
Gopikrishnan Konnanath, Infosys senior vice president and global head of engineering services and blockchain, says, “As the environment that gathers and disseminates data from the physical world to represent it in the virtual one, IoT is the backbone connecting both the worlds.
"Developers must understand IoT’s ecosystem of connected objects and how it captures data to create ‘real-like’ sensations—visual, auditory, experiential—in metaverse avatars.”
Schouw adds that “metaverse applications can be transformational for the enterprise, particularly with IoT and digital twins that are digital representations of real-world entities.”
Cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and blockchain
Virtual worlds will need to support identity resolution, financial transactions, smart contracts, and material ownership. That’s where cryptocurrencies, nonfungible tokens (NFTs), and blockchain are key technologies.
More broadly, Yan Ketelers, CMO at Venly, identifies several Web 3.0 technologies, including creating decentralised autonomous organisations (DAOs), Web3 profiles, and the importance of social platforms. “Every business will need either a centralised or decentralised wallet provider and an NFT strategy,” he says.
That’s a lot of tech jargon, but these technologies are key for retail industries to create storefronts and other trusted commerce in virtual worlds.
The metaverse and NFTs already provide revolutionary capabilities for content creators, the arts, and the distribution of other intellectual property.
Jeremy Howell, vice president of strategic accounts at Rightsline, says, “The tech embedded in the metaverse encourages experimentation in areas such as financing, production, distribution, and exploitation of branded content for businesses. While the metaverse will mimic aspects of the physical world, businesses will shine by leading with innovation and using novel engagement points.”
Managing multiple metaverses
There’s effectively one internet even though multiple devices, browsers, programming languages, data formats, and other technologies create interoperability challenges. It’s less likely we’ll see one virtual world unanimously branded “the metaverse,” but hopefully, we won’t end up with walled-off worlds and experiences.
Mallikarjuna believes that “businesses need to prepare to provide a seamless experience for consumers across multiple metaverses, not just ‘the metaverse.’ ”
That’s largely how video game worlds operate today. For the most part, you can’t port your video game avatar and gaming wealth across competing gaming worlds, but for the metaverse to have massive adoption, it will require creating standards across many technologies.
The question is, how will businesses choose to invest in metaverse technologies as many of the platforms continue to evolve?
Prasad Joshi, senior vice president at the Infosys Center for Emerging Technology Solutions, says, “Companies need to adopt AR, VR, and AI/ML technologies, along with strong 5G networks into their company processes, which will enable them to create more immersive and sophisticated metaverse experiences and higher productivity.”
Some organisations will invest in dataops, while others will experiment with cryptocurrencies and NFTs. The good news is technologists will have plenty of opportunities to experiment, innovate, and deliver using metaverse and Web 3.0 technologies.