The Metaverse. A term that almost everybody will have heard of the last few years with the continued development of both virtual and augmented reality technologies. The Metaverse has become something of a buzzword, but there is significant debate about what the metaverse is and what it means for the future of consumerism and industry.
According to several pieces of independent research from the likes of PWC, IDC and Statista, the metaverse industry could be worth as much as $1 trillion by the end of the decade. This number represents a staggering growth rate over the next few years, and many companies are already seeing the industry’s potential. Some, like Facebook, are rebranding to position themselves to the concept.
There is no doubt that once the metaverse starts to take shape and becomes accessible to more and more people, businesses will start looking at how they can utilise the technology to improve communication, processes and productivity. The pandemic has shifted how we approach work, with many companies continuing to offer hybrid, if not fully remote work even where all rules have relaxed, such as in the UK.
The opportunities that the metaverse presents are vast, and currently, it is not lost upon industry leaders that it will inevitably change the way they approach projects as we advance. An example is the United States Space Force, which sees the metaverse as an opportunity to expose its Guardians to a virtual reality environment that simulates their domain of operations, i.e. Space.
One industry that should closely watch the rise of the metaverse is Satellite / Telecommunication. In this article, we will be exploring how the metaverse presents incredible growth opportunities for the connectivity industry and where we see it fitting in with its development.
One of the prominent areas where the Satcom / Telecom industry can become a crucial player in the rise of the metaverse is delivering the connectivity to power virtual and augmented reality devices. Immersive VR and AR experiences will require significant bandwidth; experts estimate between 2 – 5 Gbps, with a latency of 5 – 20 ms. This is a massive difference from what is currently available on average with current fixed-line WiFi, 4G and 5G connections, particularly in rural areas.
These bandwidth requirements are where the commercial and defence satellite providers have the opportunity to boost their connection speeds to facilitate the bandwidth and latency required for the “ultimate” interactive VR experience. Right now, satellite broadband providers such as SpaceX’s Starlink can offer downstream connection speeds of up to 500mbps, still a far cry from what would be needed. However, we expect these speeds to increase significantly over the coming years by developing current technologies and new satellite constellations such as Inmarsat’s Elera, Amazon’s Kuiper or OneWeb. The faster these Satellite companies can provide the required speeds, the more likely they will be in a great position to become feasible service providers for metaverse customers. There would also be knock-on effects in that the more accessible the metaverse is, the quicker customers will adopt its use, further growing both industries.
Connectivity in Remote or Low-Infrastructure Areas
Another opportunity for satellite service providers is connectivity in non-urban areas, where connection speeds are often sub-par and lower priority for telecommunications and broadband providers. This is a chance to take advantage of a large proportion of the populations of several countries. In the UK and the US, the rural population makes up 12 and 20% of the total. That is 12 million potential customers in the UK and 60 million in the US.
Providing the proper connectivity to these rural areas would reduce the connectivity gap experienced by people living in rural or remote areas. One solution is using a potential “digital-twin” metaverse, essentially a copy of our world. They could visit stores, go sightseeing, or even work in a virtual office through a single VR setup in their home and connected via satellite broadband. Gaining solid access to the metaverse would allow these people to have more exposure to urban facilities. It would revolutionise retail and tourism as it makes them more accessible, and as the technology becomes more affordable, even cheaper than what it is replacing.
The same is true for locations that lack high-speed fixed line or telecommunications infrastructure. These might be remote or in less developed countries. Satellites have the potential for blanket coverage and could be an enticing option for people inhabiting these remote areas. To fully bring these people into a globalised world, connected by a metaverse facilitated by satellite broadband, would benefit businesses, consumers and governments alike.
The Defence Metaverse
One of the potential use cases for the metaverse is within the defence industry. There is still no solid consensus about its potential applications or how they would look. Still, the United States Space Force is reportedly looking at ways to take advantage of massive investments into immersive digital technology. Space Force service members, called “Guardians”, rely on digital space environments to do their jobs; they can’t carry out combat drills in the same way as Army or Navy personnel.
A digital twin of a space environment, accessible through virtual reality, could be a game-changing innovation for Guardians to experience their area of operations in the first person. Another use case put forward by the Space Force is to use Virtual or Augmented Reality to digitally engineer satellites and develop new capabilities for operations in Space.
The 2018 US National Defence Strategy focused on how the American military prepares, trains, and educates personnel and future leaders. It has a strong emphasis on continuous and rich activities throughout careers that are portable and available at the point of need. The US Armed Forces are already employing virtual learning opportunities. A metaverse where soldiers can experience simulations, combat drills, and surveillance in a risk-free environment could have a considerable benefit to the training of the Armed Forces.
Apart from this, there are many other use cases for the metaverse in the defence capacity. These could be recruitment, experimentation and social, among others.
This could be important to satellite service providers if they can offer the services to run these virtual reality defence environments worldwide. It would allow Armed Forces to carry out virtual operations and training during active service in remote or contested regions. Commercial satellite providers are already engaging with governments around the world. So, there is massive scope for government units to grow as militaries begin to utilise the metaverse for virtual operations.
Blockchain and Virtual Security
One of the main issues raised with the rising idea of the metaverse is concerned with how users can protect their personal information, identity and belonging. We are talking about exabytes of data that need to be stored securely with the metaverse. The immediate solution to this problem that everyone is looking toward is blockchain. Blockchain decentralises data where independent nodes can interact in a single, dynamic network.
Blockchain is fundamental if you accept that decentralised cryptocurrencies will be widely used in the metaverse to purchase goods and services. There will have to be a secure transfer of digital currencies to make users comfortable making exchanges in virtual reality.
You can also look at what the US Space Force and Commercial Space industries would use the metaverse and virtual reality for. With talks of crewed missions to the Moon and Mars with the potential for a human presence on the planets, the metaverse could be a way for personnel to carry out training, digital maintenance of spacecraft and the ability to interact with people back on Earth.
This presents an opportunity for the space industry to become facilitators of orbital and interplanetary decentralised data storage. The issue with accessing the metaverse further away from Earth is latency and bandwidth, so there will need to be technology to close this gap. Thankfully, space companies already have this in their minds. As of May 2022, Lockheed Martin and Filecoin Foundation are working to demonstrate a blockchain network in Space.
They have identified an opportunity to support a long-term presence in Space without relying entirely on Earth-based communications/data storage, enabling more efficient data transfer in Space and could keep users off the planet connected via the metaverse. This would be done through a network of spacecraft all linking and sharing data with each other ready to be accessed on or off Earth.
To sum up, although the metaverse is still definitely not a concrete concept and a lot of creases have to be ironed out, it is clear that many companies are positioning themselves to be ready for what they see as inevitably coming. We don’t know what shape the metaverse will take, and it depends on how technology evolves over the coming decade. But, with the amount of investment into it already, it’s clear that virtual, augmented, mixed and extended reality will play some part in the way we interact with technology in the near future.
These developing technologies provide countless opportunities for many sectors. Still, with the heavy reliance the technologies are likely to have on rapid, dependable connectivity and secure decentralised data storage, the satellite industry is in an enviable position. It could develop its services to offer the solution to some of the primary challenges the metaverse will encounter and reap the benefits of what is touted to be one of the biggest hypes since Web 2.0.