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How the metaverse went mainstream in 2022

Real Conversations podcast | S4 E19 | December 15, 2022


Jason Elliott


Inspired by the power of people and technology, Jason Elliott is the Head of Cross Portfolio Solutions, and Ecosystems marketing at Nokia.

2022 was a big year for telecom. From the metaverse to the World Cup and everything in between, technology evangelist Jason Elliott tells our Michael Hainsworth that mobile providers accelerated their pivot to a decentralized network with a focus on getting more out of 5G than any wireless technology before.

Below is a transcript of this podcast. Some parts have been edited for clarity.

Michael Hainsworth: From the introduction of the metaverse, a focus on sustainability and the reliability of energy infrastructure to the wide rollouts of 5G and the use of connectivity at the World Cup, 2022 marked a big year in telecommunications.

Nokia's technology evangelist Jason Elliott tells me it was the year we witnessed the decentralization of everything and the year we chose to use digital tools to collaborate, even though many of us returned to the office. We began by talking about how there isn't one, there are three.

Jason Elliott: Absolutely Michael. At Nokia we think about the metaverse in terms of not just the traditional consumer metaverse that many people think about, but it's actually also the enterprise metaverse and also the industrial metaverse.

And these are actually very important because, unlike the consumer metaverse, which is traditionally thought about in terms of gaming, which many of Gen Z actually do already today, the enterprise and industrial metaverses are essentially already here to some extent.

When you think about industrial metaverse, this is really talking about digital twins and what you can actually do with those digital twins to create virtual environments that you can actually operate in and understand what's happening in the physical environment. And the same for the enterprise metaverse, where people come together to collaborate using lots of different types of digital tools.

And obviously, those experiences keep getting richer and richer as we progress right now. So, those two are actually very, very important, the industrial and the enterprise metaverse, as we see going forward for businesses of all different types of sizes and industry sectors.

MH: And while the consumer metaverse may be the one that's getting all the headlines right now, I suspect that industrial and enterprise metaverse environments are going to actually be a bigger piece of the economic pie.

JE: Absolutely. As many industries look to improve product safety and efficiency overall, I think in terms of the capabilities of things like digital twins, being able to plan their entire operations and processes, being able to control the physical environment remotely.

It is very, very important for enterprises, particularly in those physical industries such as mining, transportation, utilities, to really get better insights and improve the productivity and efficiency of their business and also achieve those sustainability goals that many of these physical industries have going forward.

MH: I suspect in 2022, as we were building up the metaverse, we were also building the necessary foundations to make them viable for 2023. And 5G and 5G-Advanced play a big role in that.

JE: Yes, and when you think about the explosion of data that's all around us and the metaverse being kind of a very pinnacle point around that, we already see today obviously the use of technology to support communications in all sorts of forms, video and voice and all the different types of applications.

So it's very important both from a fixed-line communications, broadband perspective, and obviously, wireless and mobile to actually start fundamentally building those capabilities today to create that level of future-ready performance for all these new types of applications and services. Technologies obviously like fiber and optical and fixed, and then 5G-Advanced, which is very, very important, where we're going to see a new set of capabilities and extension of capabilities to support things like lower latency, which is lower delay in the network. To create more of these immersive type experiences that we're looking towards as we create things like digital twins and metaverse collaboration environments as well for enterprises.

MH: It really has been a pivotal year. People are focusing on the consumer side initially because it's sort of already there. You have an interesting point that Gen Z doesn't even realize it's already in the metaverse?

JE: Interestingly, we did some research recently and what we found was that obviously Gen Z spends a lot of time online -they're a very digital, online, social-first generation.  

The type of environments that they use online, whether it's Decentraland or Roblox or Fortnite in terms of gaming and, particularly if some of them are wearing headsets as well, they are in immersive digital online environments where they're creating digital avatars and characters and socializing with their friends across the world.

But they don't see this as the metaverse. They just see it as a means of their natural interaction, of the way they carry out their social interaction in an online digital environment.

It's interesting to see that as we're trying to classify the metaverse as something new, when it already exists in many different shapes and forms. And I think those shapes and forms will continue to mature and extend and deepen over time, and that's what we will see.

MH: Nokia joined a Metaverse Standards Forum as a Principal Member in 2022?

JE: Yes, absolutely. This is very important because the Metaverse Standards Forum is really kind of a venue for cooperation between different types of standards organizations and companies. And it's very key to the development of the interoperability of those standards for a much more open and inclusive metaverse. To be able to take that pragmatic action on what the different types of technologies require, both wireless and communications, but also audio and video capture, the compression of that and the transport of those video mediums as well.  Obviously, the cloud is very important here too, and Nokia obviously is right in the middle of this in terms of the technology, in terms of the connectivity and the platforms associated with that.

We've done a lot of work already on things like immersive multimedia standardization. So that will play a fundamental role in delivering these immersive metaverse experiences, but no one company or individuals or companies and organizations are going to own the metaverse per se.

The Metaverse Standards Forum is very important to continue that collaboration so that we can all take advantage of this in the future through business.

MH: 2022 was the year we saw the cost of rising energy and extreme weather events. We know that there are a lot of challenges to address.

JE: Yes, there is. For many people around the planet today, energy is a constant problem, a reliable source of energy. There are actually 789 million people around the world today that don't have access to reliable sources of energy or any energy supply at all in terms of electricity.

And there are millions more that actually suffer from intermittent supply as well or the higher price of energy too. This is also deeply connected obviously to the type of sources that we use to generate our electricity supply, in terms of fossil fuels. Which is obviously causing a greater impact on our planet, in addition to creating these extreme weather events, which are then causing power outages to the existing energy infrastructure grid.  

What we are starting to see are many different types of companies looking at solutions to decentralize the current energy infrastructure grid. You can actually start to provide different supplies of energy by different methods to either more rural communities that don't have any energy supply, or even in more developed communities and areas of the world where energy resilience is required by those different nations that are experiencing more dramatic effects around weather events as well.

To be able to do that, you do need digital connectivity as a platform to provide an understanding of how you can distribute the supply of energy. Things like microgrids are very important here, where you could start to introduce new renewable sources of power like solar and wind into the energy distribution grid, but in a local community type of deployment.

What's really important here is that you have to balance the requirements of the loads of energy in businesses and homes as well and understand what that energy profile looks like. So again, digital communications platforms and connectivity play a key role here.  

IoT, understanding how much energy is being consumed across homes and businesses, having a digital platform using AI to balance the energy demand and also what actual supply of energy you can actually draw from, whether it's wind, solar or storing that energy in the form of batteries or traditional methods of energy generation as well.

And that's really important, that digitalization in these sorts of environments, particularly for the industry, the energy and utility sectors, can create a significant impact at scale for both people and our planet to address these big issues of our time.

MH: Fascinating, as we went through 2022 on the Real Conversations Podcast we learned from experts in microgrids about the various aspects of that technology. And what's always fascinating to me is, when you bring more than one piece of technology together, you get something that you had never expected before.

We're talking 5G, but we're also talking about artificial intelligence, machine learning technologies, the Internet of Things. All of these technologies come together to give us the ability to do things like microgrids.

JE: That's right. And I think one of the interesting things is bringing together a number of experts, so collaboration is very, very important here. You start to understand the impact that these technologies can have and not use them in isolation.

Right now, we do have a lot of abilities in various different types of technologies but being able to bring them all together is what really creates the impact.

A lot of the technologies around energy generation have been deployed somewhat on a particular smaller scale, but to really create that much bigger impact, the use of digital technology through digitalization, will help scale these technologies and provide a new way and a new approach to tackle these very, very big problems.

MH: When we talk about bringing together a bunch of different technologies, yes, we can use them for important things like addressing climate change, et cetera, but we're also entertaining ourselves. And nowhere was that more evident of the coming together of different transformational technologies than the World Cup of soccer, or football depending on where you are.

JE: Absolutely Michael. Yes, I think it's very interesting. We even see in an area like sports, which we all love to watch and love different types of sports, but even in the World Cup there's obviously a lot of technology being used.

And today, they actually have connectivity and sensors inside each individual football themselves, and they are actively being used within the matches. The sensors within these footballs are being used to track their position and also the players on the field, helping the referees during video reviews, actually during on-match pitches as well, and providing key statistics. And then there are other things that you can do to extend the fan experience as well, like tracking your favorite players, etc.

It's interesting to see how something like the sports industry, from an entertainment perspective, is using the power of connectivity for AI to do deep analysis, and really improve the overall experience, supporting both the players and spectators as well.

Interestingly, stadiums provide a great platform to think about collaborating around exciting new types of technologies and be able to bring things together, because you have the stadium owners, you have the sports leagues and teams themselves. You obviously have other third parties in terms of technology companies and application companies. One example we're doing right now in Tampere and Finland with the Nokia arena, is bringing together all these different types of companies to create new and immersive experiences for entertainment services.

That's kind of the whole theme around collaboration, to create an advantage in terms of what you can do, in terms of the new applications and services and business models that could be achievable. It's an excellent platform to think about how you can advance and look at transforming your business over time.

MH: It feels like one of the big advances when we went from 4G into 5G was the realization that it's not just for telecommunications companies anymore, it's also for factory floors, it's for university campuses. And it's for things like stadiums, where you can give the end consumer a whole new way of consuming content or anything of that matter.

JE: I think one of the interesting things about 5G is we've seen more uptake and focus on the enterprise and particular industries specifically because of the capabilities it does offer. What they're looking for are outcomes to be able to transform their business, not so much on the specific technology itself, but really focusing on the transformational aspects digital connectivity and platforms have on their business.

What's really interesting is we see more and more companies outside of the core telecom industry taking leading roles in driving certain aspects of the standardization process, also contributing to building proof of concept platforms, and integrating the technology that they provide into the digital connectivity system and platforms that the telecoms industry actually has to create these very, very compelling solutions. So that really does address their market needs and their business needs to be able to transform their business.

MH: Now let's step back and take that ten thousand foot view of 2022. What do you see as being the biggest change in the telecommunications industry for the year?

JE: I mean, I think a lot of the communications service providers, particularly the mobile service providers, have been, I would say, kind of decentralizing or extricating some of their assets.

We've seen a lot of movement towards selling off things like the mobile tower assets and sites as well, with them being able to free up capital to actually concentrate on the core business of providing connectivity and applications and services to their consumers. So, we're seeing a change in the business model of the priorities of many mobile service providers in how they provide those services to customers.  

And then also in terms of the architecture and the way they're deploying the networks as well. We've been talking about this for a while now, but the software side of things, the virtualization of the network and then pushing all the components to the edge of the network still continues to accelerate, particularly as we start to roll out 5G and 5G standalone with a service-based architecture.  

So, we're making things a lot more consumable. The network is going to become a lot more consumable in one aspect, but it's very interesting to see how new business models and approaches are being looked at by many service providers because of the assets that they're diversifying and the way they're thinking about investments going forward.

MH: For me, what was interesting about of 2022 was that transition to the office again, yet at the same time many of us were still choosing to use digital collaboration tools.

JE: This is fascinating. I mean, obviously, we have seen a huge explosion in bandwidth requirements over the last couple of years, but even as people are less restricted in terms of being able to meet face to face both personally and professionally, they do still choose to meet online because it's more convenient. It's freeing up time for them personally. They feel they can get more done. And definitely on the convenience side, because the connectivity is there to do it and it's a lot easier, I think people have become much more comfortable and aware of how to use technology.

I know a number of people, even my own family and friends, continue to do this both personally and professionally as well. They are choosing this digital method of communication first.  That will just continue as we start to see the evolution of the different types of devices.

I mean, we're all very comfortable with smartphones and tablets and probably webcams now, and there is a new mature set of head mounted devices as well that will start to come online over the next couple of years. And I think it will just really kind of grow from there.

MH: Now this could be an entirely dedicated podcast as we look ahead to 2023 but give us your first thought here as to what we can expect in the coming year.

JE: One of the important things to recognize is that we do need to continue, in terms of collaboration and cooperation. Whether that's kind of within our own telecoms industry, as we start talking about the standards that we build, both in fixed and wireless communications. I know there's a lot of work already going on now with 6G and the Hexa-X forum that Nokia is playing a key role in.  

It's very important that we continue to have that dialogue with all of the key stakeholders across the globe because we don't want fragmentation. And I think that's very, very important to do. Policy makers need to recognize this because having a single standardization process really helps in terms of deployment of these technologies at scale and at the right price points over time.

So I think that's very, very important too, not only just within our own industry, but I also think it's important for us, as we start to think about the future of telecommunications and the impact that it's having, not just in our industry, but across multiple industries as well, is to include those other types of companies and industries, whether it's manufacturing, energy, utilities, transportation into this whole process as well.

So, when we're designing these new technologies, it's also being thought of in the context of what the application of this technology will be to be able to create those very, very monumental advances that we need to address those business challenges and also the challenges that we face as a society and for our planet as well. Creating the right positive impact for both people and the planet over time. I think, for me, collaboration is extremely important within our industry and externally as well.

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