Telcos need to start building base for 6G metaverse – analysts

It's been almost a year since Facebook renamed itself Meta, planting the metaverse concept in our brains and sparking a ramp-up in stocks from Roblox to Nvidia. Today, the social network giant can claim 300,000 users on its Horizon Worlds platform, but at a cost of $5.7 billion in losses.

For their part, telcos so far have mostly just dabbled in the metaverse. SKT is the prime exception, with its Ifland service now being exported worldwide.

That is certain to change. Facebook aside, a lot of companies are raining money on the metaverse.

Analysys Mason estimates that between now and 2030, the metaverse will attract $1.9 trillion in investment, including 6G and cloud capex. Staff from the research firm shared some of their thinking about the developing concept – which they like to call the 3D Internet – at their annual telecom summit this week.

The metaverse is tied to 6G - and businesses are expected to shower $1.9 trillion on it over the rest of the decade.
 (Source: ZUMA Press Inc/Alamy Stock Photo)
The metaverse is tied to 6G – and businesses are expected to shower $1.9 trillion on it over the rest of the decade.
(Source: ZUMA Press Inc/Alamy Stock Photo)

Their first bit of advice is that the metaverse is inextricable from 6G. Principal analyst Martin Scott says it will be the major driver of 6G network architecture evolution and investment.

"Stakeholders and investors are making their plans," he said. "Money is flowing, and new developments are underway to support these new user experiences. But they will have to wait for the new network to happen if they are to come to fruition."

5G users' needs may outrun development

The problem for telcos has been the tepid performance of 5G. Most of its promised improvements – rich new network capabilities, diversified revenue streams and fresh user experiences – have yet to emerge.

Caroline Gabriel, an Analysys Mason research director, says that 5G has been business-as-usual mobile broadband for most operators. The short-termism of this is now being seen around the world, she adds, citing the declining average revenue per user (ARPU) of Korean operators after just two years of growth.

"Since the start of 5G we've argued the buildout can only be justified if operators expand into significant new markets and revenue streams," Gabriel says. "Most of [the 5G vision] has not really transpired, and if operators don't start to put the foundations of that vision in place now, the rapid evolution of user requirements will outrun 5G development, making the 5G generation potentially redundant."

Gabriel warns that if operators don't start building the underlying pieces of 6G, it's possible the next generation could be developed "entirely separately from the 5G ecosystem, and be primarily driven by cloud and Internet communities."

But she says telcos can take the initiative now in building out platforms "to ensure the 6G business models do become evolutions of what they put in place today and leave them with a central role in the chain."

Gabriel suggests that telcos are approaching 6G through two different paths. One is the incremental route in steadily building out capabilities such as low latency, edge and slicing for industrial clients. The other is the consumer-focused, mobile broadband-centric path until the latter part of the decade, when the 6G roadmap becomes clearer.

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Scott points to multiple potential roles for operators in the 6G metaverse era – as a connectivity provider both inside and outside the home, curating content experiences and supplying computing capability, a critical enabler.

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— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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