I had already written this blog before Facebook announced it would be hiring at least 10,000 programmers to start moving the company towards the metaverse. I see the metaverse as one of the next big drivers of increased bandwidth usage. Wikipedia defines the metaverse as a collective virtual shared space created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual reality worlds, augmented reality, and the Internet. In the most basic sense, the metaverse consists of online worlds where people interact through avatars.
The early metaverse already includes platforms like Roblox, Fortnite, Decentraland, Upland, and Sandbox. These platforms have attracted millions of users who play games, interact with friends, buy and sell and barter goods and serves, all out of reach of the mainstream Internet.
Big companies see the metaverse as a huge source of future revenue. The Facebook announcement is the biggest but not the first announcement of corporations making a big metaverse play. Facebook joins Sony, Microsoft, Alphabet, Nvidia, and other corporations that are also betting big on the metaverse. It will be interesting to see if generation-Z will reject big corporate metaverse platforms in place of ones they create themselves.
The metaverse is at its infancy, but it is already much more than just a gaming platform. People buy, trade, and sell real-life assets on the platforms using real-world barter or cryptocurrency, and there are already successful metaverse merchants and traders. It’s been reported that a few people have made over $1 million buying and selling digital assets in Upland. One of the popular ways to trade for online assets is through the use of NFTs (non-fungible tokens) that are being used as an online currency. People are already spending a lot of money today to create their own digital world.
The big corporations are also banking on a lot more than gaming. They see an online world that could provide the next platform for business meetings and virtual connections. It’s a platform that can give everybody a front-row seat at a big concert. The companies investing in the space see it as an opportunity to develop new product lines to manage online payments, to authenticate users, to create content, to create security, and yes, to advertise. Nike recently released new Air Jordans strictly online in Fortnite. Gucci sold a virtual bag for more than the cost of the real thing in Roblox.
Many in generation-Z are already routinely immersed in metaverse platforms. I have a friend whose twenty-year-old spends a lot of time on today’s metaverse platforms because it’s a place where friends can interact outside of the tracking that is routinely done in the ad-driven Internet – it’s an online presence that is out of sight.
How will the metaverse impact broadband? Already today, a connection to a platform like Fortnight is 2-way. With today’s rudimentary graphics, the amount of bandwidth being used isn’t large and requires less bandwidth than graphic-intense cloud games. But the huge resources being poured into metaverse platforms means a big step-up in graphics, and thus in bandwidth. It’s already not untypical for a teen to have several metaverse platforms running at the same time – picture what that means to bandwidth in five or years if this is being done with 4K video.
I’ve said for twenty years that I want a holodeck. It’s likely that the closest I’ll get to that will be online through one of the future metaverse platforms. I’ll begrudgingly accept that if the experience can feel real enough for me to suspect my disbelief.