Depending on your viewpoint, the world's telcos have been slow to seize the metaverse opportunity – or have sensibly remained on the sidelines.
Japan's NTT Docomo is one of the few taking the plunge. It already has a small consumer metaverse service, known as XR World, where users can experience live events via smartphones and PCs.
Now it's planning to set up a new company to develop and market tools for the industrial metaverse.
"Docomo envisions a virtual space where engineers in remote locations can come together and use the tools to jointly develop products or test prototypes," Nikkei Asia reported.
CEO Motoyuki Ii said it was part of the company's preparation for the "post-smartphone era."
In the NTT Group vision, the metaverse will take advantage of its photonic-based IOWN (Innovative optical and wireless network), still under development, that is aimed at improving bandwidth by 125 times and delivering latency of 1/200 of a second.
Docomo sees the metaverse as an important part of its diversification strategy. It's aiming at non-telecom services accounting for half of revenue in three years.
SK Telecom stands out with Ifland
But the standout telecom operator in the metaverse is SK Telecom. Its Ifland platform is one of South Korea's two big metaverse services, with a reported 1.5 million MAUs.
It has signed up Deutsche Telekom as a European partner and says it wants further partners around the world (see SKT soars into metaverse as AI businesses gather steam).
Ifland is one of two services run out of SKT's AI unit, which took in $222 million in revenue last year and is aiming to reach $1.6 billion by 2025.
SKT's thinking about the metaverse is interesting. It sees that Ifland doesn't suck up much capex and can leverage the operator's 5G infrastructure and customer base to grow the business.
Over time, Ifland will help expand the user base and enable new subscriptions and other services.
Of course, it helps that Korean and Japanese operators don't face the overwhelming presence of OTT giants like Facebook, Google and WeChat in their markets.
Telcos everywhere else in the world will struggle to build a business case for a metaverse platform – but there are plenty of other metaverse roles for them to chew on, and it increasingly looks like it is going to be too big to ignore.
Consultancy McKinsey has forecast that the metaverse could generate a "$5 trillion impact" by 2030. In a recent survey of executives, it found that 95% believe the metaverse will have a positive impact on their industry.
"About a third of them think the metaverse can bring significant change in how their industry operates, and a quarter of them believe it will generate more than 15% of corporate revenue in the next five years," McKinsey said.
It urges companies to dip their toes into the metaverse to get a better sense of what it entails.
"There is no avoiding the fact that if you want to both understand consumers and opportunities that may be available to your organization, you need to be familiar with the metaverse," it said.
- SKT soars into metaverse as AI businesses gather steam
- SKT cruises to $340M operating profit on mobile, media growth
- NTT Docomo to start 6G trials with Nokia
- Asian telcos, investors can't get enough mobile tower deals
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading