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5G and the Metaverse

Metaverse. The metaverse is still more of a buzzword and vision than a fully-fledged end goal with a defined arrival date. Despite all the headlines and investments, the metaverse will not arrive in 2022 or, for that matter, within the typical 5-year forecast window.

What we have today are tech companies building their version of a “multiverse,” but this is not fully interconnected, does not yet widely employ open standards, and certainly has not fully embraced XR (extended reality)—all tenets of the metaverse vision. ABI Research predicts, however, that by 2024, the XR market will hit $4.84 billion, up from $630 million in 2020.

One missing piece is an ability to connect all the diverse elements that are supposed to make up the metaverse. While the Internet is the logical connector, the reality is that the 5G network is going to be the link to connect all the pieces, many of which are mobile in nature—smartphones, tablets, etc. In the meantime, practical technologies are filling the demand.

As we noted previously, in its whitepaper, 38 Technology Stats You Need to Know for 2022, ABI Research identified the rise of always-on 5G portable devices, an explosion of edge AI (artificial intelligence) adoption, a proliferation of smart-manufacturing platforms, a growing concern for cybersecurity, and the formation of the metaverse.

Trends across digital media and advertising, immersive and hybrid workforces, and evolutions in technology (i.e., 5G advanced and upcoming 6G) are all coming together to change how we consume content, do our work, access needed services, and communicate. These changing markets, especially as they come together, will create tremendous demands on networks (i.e., data volume increases and ultra-low latency connections) and computational resources.

The ability of 5G to combine connectivity with high-precision positioning into a single infrastructure has the potential to significantly enhance the value proposition of 5G rollouts and enable new RTLS (realtime location services) within a variety of enterprises. End-market verticals, such as construction, manufacturing, warehousing and supply chain, transportation, and mining are among them.

Implementing 5G positioning can make RTLS more accurate, precise, reliable, and seamless across both indoor and outdoor environments. However, it is still in the early days of maturity, and there are several obstacles that will have to be addressed before it can be widely adopted.

ABI Research has been actively monitoring the activities of IoT cellular module vendors for last two years. One of the findings was that there are only 45 cataloged 5G IoT module models available. This is not surprising as 5G is not applicable to many IoT (Internet of Things) applications outside of the automotive space and for fixed wireless terminals, due to the original release of 5G baseband modems being aimed at consumer mobile broadband market.

The largest technology generation of module models cataloged is 4G. Unlike 2G and 3G, which have been declared obsolete by leading carriers, 4G is not under threat of being unsupported. 4G is a technology that is globally available and is the current technology of choice for mid-to-long term future proofing of IoT devices.

While we await global standards for 5G and the presence of that technology on every device, other applications are being explored. Edge computing financial viability, for example, is tightly coupled to 5G cellular networks, both public and private. The availability of affordable 5G services, on which edge computing will thrive, is not yet a global reality. As a result, edge computing adoption will be slower than anticipated.

Until 5G and higher technologies at every stage of design, manufacturing, shipping, and integration come together, the metaverse will remain a collection of ideas looking for execution. The pathway is clear, but the road still needs to be paved to allow interconnection and interoperability across devices, operating systems, and even borders. When they do come together, look out world, the sky’s the limit.

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