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Whispers of the Metaverse at this year’s Connected Britain event

Connected Britain is an annual two-day connectivity event, held at Islington’s Business Design Centre, aimed at bringing together the leaders shaping Britain’s digital future. This year’s event, taking place on the 21st and 22nd of September is held across eight streams. These are: Gigabit Britain, which explores the investment and regulatory environment supporting full fibre and 5G rollouts.”; Project Rollout, which explores the technology, engineering and delivery strategies broadband builders are adopting to accelerate rollouts on the 2025 timeframe.”; Connected Society, which explores “technologies and strategies for overcoming the challenges of digital inclusion and connecting the unconnected.”; Smart Britain, which looks at building smart digital infrastructure, and the services it enables.”; Connected Industries; which explores how cross-sector partnerships and connectivity are driving innovation.”; Connected Enterprise, which explores the evolution of the UK's enterprise communications market, the technologies that are re-shaping B2B communications as well new products and services.; Local Authority Showcase; which gives local authorities a chance to celebrate their successes and innovations as well as to learn from their peers.”; and Startup Britain, which “gives startup the chance to pitch their idea to potential investors, partners, and customers.”

Here at we were particularly interested in any updates on how the UK’s full fibre deployment was going, bearing in mind that this is the underlying 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. The UK Government’s Project Gigabit aims to deliver gigabit-capable internet connectivity to 85% of the country by 2025, so we joined the “Building a Gigabit Britain: Progress Report” panel to find out whether or not the country was on track to achieve its target. Previous documents published by the Government department DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) in 2021, show Project Gigabit completion in February 2029.

Panellists Carlos Lopez, Telecom Business Unit Director, UK at Prysmian Group, David Cullen, Founder and Director of Prism Business Consulting Ltd, Catherine Colloms, Managing Director of Corporate Affairs at Openreach, Kevin Murphy, new CEO at G.Networks, and Rob Gilbert, UK Country Manager at HFCL, provided an update on progress. While there was a general consensus that the UK was on track to deliver gigabit-capable internet connectivity to 85% of the country by 2025, this bullishness was tempered with warnings of current and future headwinds. Carlos Lopez noted that the UK was still lagging behind its European counterparts, while David Cullen remarked that “most of the problems are problems of our own making.” These problems included: a large number of alternative network providers, or alt-nets, trying to make a land grab in the most commercially viable areas, leading to overbuild and supply issues; an associated increase in material costs, with fibre costs rising by twenty-five per cent, exacerbated by the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine; and ongoing issues with red tape, with many barriers to deployment highlighted in the 2018 Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review still in place. So, a mixed report card and a number of issues that look to delay the UKs entry into the Metaverse.

The Metaverse itself received only a passing mention at this year’s event, with only one presentation daring to even use the work “Metaverse” in its title. This came from the team at IT and business consulting firm CGI, who gave a brief presentation including their virtual replica of CGI’s Fenchurch Street office, allowing the virtual onboarding of staff. We’re hoping for much, much more at next year’s event.

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