I've been to Mobile World Congress and been through at least 15 different metaverses. None have convinced me. None, de facto, was the promised metaverse. In fact, the promise of technology for the coming years based on 5G – and a diffuse 6G – has the aromas of those MWC in which virtual reality was rampant at the Fira.
As at that time, the blame falls on the same character: Mark Zuckerberg. Back in 2016, the founder of Facebook left that image to remember in which he walked through one of the conferences between attendees with Oculus. The purchase of the VR headset company, announced in 2014, marked the beginning of an entire era. Soon after, the winter of virtual reality arrived. Under cover of a fad started by Facebook, hundreds of virtual reality companies and projects rose and fell like foam. The social network, which was far from entering the metaverse, parked its objectives until further notice.
Now, almost 6 years later, Facebook – or should we say Meta – is once again to blame. An announcement at the end of 2021 was enough for the world to revolve around him again. Once again, the metaverse has been the most mentioned and replicated word in the celebration of the technological conference of the year. And, once again, the reality is far from the promises we have on the table.
Does this mean that the metaverse is the new bubble? As in everything, it remains to be seen. There are good intentions on the table. Facebook already pointed out that the metaverse, his at least, is far from being a reality. Meta wants a version of Ready Player One. A digital universe where you can see, feel and live. For now, he is working on the technological part to find his place in what Zuckerberg considers to be the future of his company. What has been seen at the Mobile World Congress has not been that. What is and will be the metaverse – that there is a lot of innovation that is being created without much fuss – does not reach the height of the fair that has been set up around it. And never better said.
Along the way we have been able to see a digital version of the Telefónica stand. The stand of the metaverse, they said, functioning as a kind of digital twin. Also a kind of roller coaster in which its occupants went with virtual reality glasses –sorry SK Telecom, this was already seen in amusement parks more than 20 years ago–. We lost count of the number of attendees who, locked in a fence, played with glasses and controllers in the most disparate situations: dancing, playing or whatever they saw in VR.
The metaverse, or its versions, is not something new. Since the 90s, the term has been hanging around the heads of the technological imaginary. There have been more or less real approaches, Habbo and Second Life long before, they already stood out in an ecosystem that promised. They were, however, reduced versions created by accident rather than a somewhat more developed technology. Since then, many have been working: YRVR, Uttopion, Globant –the Argentine technology company that is also starting to work in the sector–. Or Telefónica itself looking for startups that can adapt to the needs of the new ecosystem. Again, there are hundreds of promising projects that can draw the metaverse that they promised us, the one that we want.
Another SK Telecom metaverse
But all the metaverses of the MWC, of dubious qualification, are simply a way to start an ecosystem with a future. But they are not metaverses. And that wouldn't be bad. To start something, you have to start somewhere. At the moment, it seems that many of the attending companies dusted off the VR glasses. Those same ones that stayed in no man's land years ago to try their luck in this call.
Although there are also those who say that technology companies have clung to the metaverse as a kind of lifeline at a time when technological innovation is not accompanying. At least for the Mobile World Congress. With few brands and few suppliers, the component crisis is not doing them any good. Also, the lack of imagination and a market maturity that has already seen everything, we had to find something that would put the icing on the cake for a Mobile that had to work first and foremost. With two years off – we are not counting the 2021 attempt – a technological panorama that wanted to return to routine could not be disappointed.
Putting sense to the metaverse of the moment
Peter Jarich, director of Intelligence at the GSMA, explained that "the vision of what the metaverse will be must go hand in hand with the progress of the network and digital transformation." All from a vision of the development of VR technology, but accompanied by the 5G or even 6G network, lines of business, applications…
It is not far from the visions of many other members of the organization. First of all, calm before what is coming beyond what the companies present. "I would distinguish what allows you to have immersive realities and the future of the internet", points out Eduard Martín, CIO and Director of Intelligent Connectivity at the Mobile World Capital of Barcelona, "because we have all seen various metaverses, but we have to see their usefulness and be realistic". Both in its applications that are adapted to the needs of a new era of the Internet, and to be used for something more than holding an online meeting with more colorful additions.
The metaverse is far from being a reality for all audiences, and it still has to go down to solid ground to understand its path and bet on the future. And yes, the Mobile World Congress metaverse smacks of the past more than the future.