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The metaverse will save 5G? That's so cute!The metaverse will save 5G? That's so cute!

'The metaverse is our future business model,' explains SK Telecom's Cho Ik-hwan. In reality, the metaverse will blow past the 5G industry on its way toward lining the pockets of big Internet companies.

Mike Dano

September 28, 2021

3 Min Read
The metaverse will save 5G? That's so cute!

Here's a new buzzword you can use during the fall trade show season: Metaverse. Enjoy!

It refers to a general shift toward virtual, online activities, one where you'll wear virtual reality goggles to watch movies, play games or talk to people. If you've seen the 2018 movie Ready Player One, you'll know what I'm talking about. If you haven't seen that movie, think the 1999 movie The Matrix. And if you haven't seen that one, consider the 1992 movie The Lawnmower Man, but with better graphics.

I could go on.

Anyway, the metaverse is a real thing I guess, considering Facebook this week announced it plans to invest $50 million into making the metaverse "responsibly." I checked and it's not April Fool's Day, so there you go.

The noise around the metaverse has now officially trickled into the 5G industry. According to a new Bloomberg article, some believe the metaverse is how wireless network operators will recoup their 5G investments. For example, Pernilla Jonsson of Ericsson's Consumer & IndustryLab suggested that the metaverse might be a 5G "killer app" that would help operators avoid becoming dumb pipes.

"The metaverse is our future business model. It will be our core business platform," Cho Ik-hwan, SK Telecom's vice president and head of mixed reality development, told the publication. "We want to create a new kind of economic system. A very giant, very virtual economic system."

SK Telecom's rivals are among the founding members of the new Global XR Content Telco Alliance, which is helping to finance the creation of content for augmented and virtual reality applications. (I would link to the group's website, but I can't find it. It must be in the metaverse!)

Asian network operators aren't the only ones pining for a 5G-killer-app metaverse. "The metaverse will need the speed and capabilities of the faster network to fully optimize futuristic applications and keep pushing progress. It is critical to pay attention to these mind-bending and evolving applications. The metaverse transformation is global. It will impact us all," according to an article published last year on Verizon's website titled "The metaverse is coming – it just needed 5G."

I'm not making this up.

Just this week, T-Mobile touted its work with companies like Iconic Engine and Omnivor to create augmented and virtual reality experiences around baseball. After all, T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T all have invested in startup incubators and venture capital programs to develop fancy 5G demos to "spur innovation" in search of "the next big thing."

What's really going on here is a little bit of wishful thinking among 5G executives hoping to justify the billions of dollars they're spending to build 5G networks. The metaverse is another digital trend that will undoubtedly rely on wireless networks but almost certainly will not create profits for wireless network operators themselves.

Just like The Matrix Resurrections (2021), we've already seen this movie before. Remember how RCS would allow wireless carriers to take back SMS profits nabbed by the likes of iMessage and WhatsApp? Remember how Softcard (formerly Isis) would allow network operators to share in the profits of digital commerce? Remember how telecom companies would be able to compete in areas such as cloud computing and Hollywood video content?

If history is any indication, the metaverse will blow past the 5G industry on its way toward lining the pockets of big Internet companies. And network operators themselves will be left to fight over which one offers the cheapest night and weekend calling minutes, er, unlimited data options, er, virtual reality service plans.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

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