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Let’s talk metaverses, plural

two engineers examine a digital twin of a wind generator

At Nokia we don’t believe in a single metaverse. We believe there will be many metaverses, each catering to different customers, companies and communities. An entertainment company might build one metaverse for consumers, say a virtual theme park, while maintaining a separate metaverse for its employees where they have the tools to create content. The potential number of metaverses is staggering, but we see them falling into one of three general categories: the industrial metaverse, the enterprise metaverse and the consumer metaverse.

There will be some commonalities among them. These metaverses will connect to one another to varying degrees, and we’ll see them sharing technologies, devices and interfaces. But ultimately they will be defined by the applications they use and the business models they adopt. Some metaverses are much further along than others when it comes to creating the business cases that justify their existence. Consequently, all metaverses won’t be realized simultaneously.

In fact, we believe that the industrial and enterprise metaverses are much further along the path to maturity. The consumer metaverse, for the time being, will have to take backseat to business. Let’s examine why.

The industrial metaverse

Though it may not make the big splashy headlines of the consumer metaverse, the industrial metaverse has quietly become a force of business innovation. While many of the technologies of the industrial metaverse are still in their formative stages, one particular technology has already taken hold: the digital twin.

By fusing digital and physical realities, the digital twin has begun transforming many industries. Ports have begun using digital twins to track every container on their docks. Aerospace companies are building engines and fuselages in the digital world to simulate exactly how an aircraft will fly. Many new factories, including Nokia’s own, exist just as much in the digital world as they do in the physical, allowing the visualization of operations down to the smallest detail.

The industrial metaverse is already demonstrating cost, productivity, safety and flexibility gains, and it’s just getting started. Over the next several years, we will see industrial operational technology (OT) systems begin merging with the metaverse. We’ll see industries use the metaverse not just for monitoring and analysis, but for direct control of operations through the digital orchestration of robot fleets. Industries will gain the ability to reconfigure their operations to constantly changing supply and demand.

The enterprise metaverse

While industry clearly has the head start, we’re already seeing the initial signs of a vibrant enterprise metaverse emerging. The pandemic has driven demand for better collaboration and communication tools, and thanks to extended reality (XR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies, we’re seeing many of those tools reside in the metaverse.

Fig. 1.

The enterprise metaverse will eventually envelop the core productivity applications that make business function. It will become the digital drafting table of architecture and engineering firms. It will play home to VR training sessions. Eventually, we’ll see the enterprise and industrial metaverses interlink, merging the IT systems at HQ to the OT systems of the shop floor.

The consumer metaverse

In the consumer world, we are seeing a lot of excitement about the metaverse, but what we’re not seeing are fully formed ideas for applications and business models. There’s been some initial activity in metaverse gaming and VR social media worlds, but we’re years away from consumers living with one foot in digital reality and the other in physical reality.

While those compelling use cases will come, there are still several factors holding them back. Consumers are much more sensitive to issues like price and ease of use than their business counterparts. The size, form factor and expense of VR headsets and the lack of mobility in XR all serve as brakes to the consumer metaverse’s development. And while business is driven by results like profits and productivity, consumers are driven by trends, which are far more unpredictable.

Nokia’s approach to the metaverse

As the metaverse will have a much bigger initial impact on industry and enterprise, that’s where Nokia’s immediate focus lies. And Nokia certainly has a key role to play. There will be no metaverse – whether industrial, enterprise or consumer – without advanced networks. Key elements of Nokia’s technology vision for 2030 are grounded in systems on which these business-focused metaverses depend: private specialized wireless, 5G-Advanced and 6G, the network of networks and network as a service, edge and cloud computing, AI and sensing, and security and privacy. This drives our tech strategy, which is the platform for product innovation across the organization.

Armed with these and other technologies, the metaverse will revolutionize how businesses create and make their products, deliver their services, reach their customers, and manage their assets and resources. What’s more the foundation we build for the industrial and enterprise metaverses will support the budding consumer metaverse as it emerges. Since Nokia Bell Labs first invented the transistor 75 years ago, we’ve witnessed the complex interplay between business and consumer invention. The metaverse will be no different.

We are embarking on a long metaverse journey. We’re starting with industry, but we’ll see the metaverse spread to all corners of society when all is said and done.

Nishant Batra

About Nishant Batra

Nishant is the Chief Strategy and Technology Officer (CSTO) of Nokia with responsibility for corporate strategy, technology architecture and pioneering research at Nokia Bell Labs; Nokia’s information technology (IT) infrastructure and digitalization initiatives; centralized security domains; and Nokia’s venture capital activities. Across his career, Nishant has been intimately involved in bringing cutting-edge products to market across industry domains and has a deep understanding of the silicon, software and system requirements necessary for innovation. An avid fan of cricket and a world-traveler, Nishant is based in California and has lived and worked in Asia, Europe and the US.

Connect with Nishant on LinkedIn.

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