It’s going to take many years and lots of technology breakthroughs to actually make the metaverse happen.
The challenge is, the metaverse is really not one thing any more than computing is one thing. It’s more of a concept than an architecture. A whole series of components are needed to make it work, and those components will differ across use cases. For example, the kind of enterprise metaverse environment needed in a manufacturing or health care setting is very different from the kind needed to collaborate on a piece of software in a workgroup setting.
The metaverse will be driven in the next several years by solutions to particular problems, and not by a blanket, horizontal capability, although obviously there will be some horizontal components that cross the solution boundaries.
The metaverse will require vastly expanded bandwidth, but more importantly vastly reduced latency. That’s really the key to metaverse connectivity. Anything beyond a millisecond or two will make it untenable. That’s why true 5G connectivity for mobile users with its low latency is so critical. Another major challenge with the metaverse is that it requires a totally redesigned user interface. And such a UI will not be created quickly, nor likely universally (each major provider may have their own unique version). Look how long it took to get to Windows 10 from CP/M and DOS, and that will give you some idea of the amount of work the UI will take (although obviously it won’t take decades). And it won’t just be one UI – there will be several optimized for different things (gaming, collaboration, AI-assisted VR/AR, etc.).
The metaverse will need massive amounts of compute power in CPU, GPU, and special AI acceleration components. There is little concern of those being available in the relatively short term, since the progression of compute power remains strong and is actually accelerating (more processing power in shorter periods of time). But using the technology in the most effective way is not straightforward. And new technologies need to be perfected for more sensually stimulating and immersive capabilities for the metaverse like touch, heat and cold, smell, and even taste. While not happening soon, there is work underway to make this a reality.
With all of the above needing to be created and perfected, it’s not easy to define a timeframe for the metaverse. It will take at least 4-5 years, maybe more, to get a large number of the needed solutions in place. There will be components that come on line sooner (like AR/VR gaming, digital twins for multiple uses beyond factories, and systems enabling some level of collaboration). But fully AI-driven metaverse capabilities will take a large number of breakthroughs that aren’t even on the horizon yet, and that will take time.
All of the major platform vendors are pushing a metaverse vision (e.g., Meta, Google, Microsoft, Intel, Nvidia, etc.), but if these big players are going to be a part of the new metaverse, they will be acquiring startups that have cornered a niche technology they need (much like the progression of so many other technologies that the big players have acquired over the years). I expect to see a lot of M&A activity in metaverse over the next 3-5 years – not all of it successful. But before then, we’ll need to see a number of big breakthrough tech from startups, many of which are still in the conceptual phase or just starting their journey.
I expect the metaverse as a whole to take at least a decade to realize, but subsets of it will come sooner. As with any new technology area, most people are better at signing on to the hype than understanding the difficulty in creating the reality. So we will continue to hear a lot of inflated messaging around the metaverse and the kind of value it can deliver.
I do expect the metaverse to ultimately add business value, but it will take some experimentation before we know exactly how much. We could certainly see AR/VR/AI adding to the ability to repair equipment, assist in the setup and building of products and facilities, help with surgery, train people in new skills, etc. But we’re talking about a new user interface and a new way of interacting with the technology — new psychological and physiological experiences — and that’s going to take some time to get right.
Bottom line: Companies should be looking into how to use metaverse solutions even if they won’t be deployed for 3-5 years or more. Getting ahead of the curve with experimentation as new options become available is always a good course of action, especially for companies that want to be on the leading edge. But large-scale deployments will take several years, and enterprises should expect that, as with any emerging technology, not all installations will be successful. It’s important to remain flexible.