The latest technology on the horizon is the metaverse, which, stated simply, is the creation of online environments. While the primary focus of the metaverse is to create alternate realities, an application with a possible immediate big uptake is vertical presence for business meetings.
Ciena, a manufacturer of fiber optic transmission equipment, recently did a survey worldwide of 15,000 business people to understand the interests and expectations of the metaverse. Here are some of the most interesting findings from the survey:
- 96% of businesspeople surveyed recognize the value of holding virtual meetings.
- 78% of survey respondents said they would prefer an immersive experience over current tools like video conferencing. Many talked about having Zoom fatigue.
- 71% thought that virtual meetings and the metaverse could become part of the everyday practices for businesses.
- 40% thought that their business was likely to move from traditional collaboration tools in favor of virtual-based platforms in the next two years.
Of course, the respondents recognized the hurdles to bringing the metaverse into the workplace. 38% thought that network performance would be a challenge and would hold businesses back from using the metaverse. Many respondents also worried that there would be limited availability of high-quality software to operate efficiently in the metaverse.
Overall, the survey showed that there is interest in the metaverse in the workplace. That’s not the same as demand, and companies will likely only embrace the technology if it is affordable and is reliable. I have to admit I am intrigued that so many survey respondents thought that using the metaverse in the workplace is right around the corner.
I’m not sure that a lot of the respondents grasped the network challenges required for using the metaverse in the workplace. A big question that still needs to be answered is how much bandwidth is going to be required to use the metaverse.
There are two visions for the metaverse. One would replace face-to-face Zoom images with avatars. It’s possible that this metaverse would use even less bandwidth than video calls. But this begs the question of whether people want to have meetings with avatars rather than with the actual person. I might be the exception, but I like Zoom calls that let me see the person I’m talking to. I know a lot of people are shy or hate Zoom calls for other reasons, such as having to put on a public face for a function that just a few years ago would have been a phone call. Going from cameras to avatars might be comforting to Zoom haters.
But the other vision of the metaverse in the workplace uses a lot more broadband. This is the concept of telepresence, where a person can feel like they are meeting live with the person at the other end. This might mean beaming the meeting into an actual office or holding meetings in virtual offices and conference rooms. Telepresence is going to require a lot of bandwidth in order to project a real-time hologram of a meeting participant. I also have to assume that a telepresence connection is going to require low latency and jitter.
The big challenge for most of the world is upload bandwidth. Companies aren’t going to make telepresence calls over today’s cable technology. The cable companies could solve this by implementing faster upload speeds, and many are tackling that. But most are not looking at upload speeds that equal the symmetrical speeds on most fiber connections.
The other big challenge for the metaverse is that a lot of employees now work virtually, meaning that companies will have to deal with a wide variety of inferior home broadband connections.