Barriers to the Metaverse: Part 1
In a presumptive “Part 1” to a potential “Barriers to the Metaverse” series, we explore the things that might impact the Metaverse and potential challenges that might need to be overcome before a boundaryless, persistent, immersive, virtual world can be fully realized.
Let’s start with the underlying network infrastructure required to power the Metaverse. While arguably not as flashy and exciting as other Metaverse challenges, this connectivity infrastructure, predominantly in the form of fibre optic cables, will provide the foundation upon which the Metaverse will be built and will be fundamental to its adoption and future success.
Meta (formerly Facebook) used the opening day of this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to call on the telecoms industry to provide “Metaverse-ready networks”, that deliver the high-speed, ultra-low latency required to power a Ready Player One-esque Metaverse.
In a Tech@Facebook blog post the day before, Meta's Vice President of Connectivity Dan Rabinovitsj called for: “enhancements in capacity and fundamental shifts in how networks are architected and deployed, as well as industry-wide collaboration – from tech companies to mobile operators, service providers, policymakers, and more – to prepare for the Metaverse.” Dan goes on to specify that the metaverse needs advancements in latency, symmetrical bandwidth, and overall speed.
2030 appears to be a key date that people are focusing as when the Metaverse, or some form of the Metaverse, might exist – although it’s common human behaviour to create artificial turning point around key dates, such as decadal milestones.
Here at The Metabite we believe the Metaverse to be some way off still, especially if symmetrical bandwidth is a limiting factor to Metaverse adoption. Consider the current level of connectivity across the UK and Europe. In September 2020 fibre to the home/building (FTTH/B) penetration was 20.5% across the 27 EU member states and the UK, with the UK languishing at 3.7%. A year later UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom said that 46% of UK premises had a gigabit-broadband connection. But this was mainly due to Virgin Media O2’s DOCSIS 3.1 network upgrades, which are not the same as FTTH/B and only deliver upload speeds of around 50Mbps, a long way off the symmetrical bandwidth required by Meta's Vice President of Connectivity.
The UK Government’s response to this lack of connectivity comes in the form of Project Gigabit, which officially launched in April 2021. The aim of Project Gigabit is to deliver gigabit-capable internet connectivity to 85% of the country by 2025. However, documents published by the Government department DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) in 2021, estimate Project Gigabit completion in February 2029.
While scheduled for completion before 2030, Project Gigabit’s target of gigabit connectivity to 85% of UK premises isn’t going to enable a Metaverse as most people envision it. Even if gigabit download speeds are broadly available in seven years’ time, this may not be enough, and a significant proportion of the population will likely be excluded.
Thirty years ago, the inventor of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee, supposedly said that the “[the Internet] is for everyone”. But today we live in a world where a digital divide exists ad where people who are not able to engage effectively with the digital world are being left behind. The question is “will Web 3.0 go the same way as Web 2.0”.