Metaverse 101: Why our future is meta and you should be excited

  • 26/05/2022
  • Sponsored by - Chorus
A woman wearing a VR headset and haptic glove interacting with a virtual object/person in the metaverse .
A woman wearing a VR headset and haptic glove interacting with a virtual object/person in the metaverse . Photo credit: Getty Images

Mention the 'metaverse' and you’ll get responses ranging from excited exclamations, to head scratches, to a fleeting memory of Mark Zuckerberg standing in front of CGI scenery awkwardly laughing about how he's definitely not a robot.

But while there are many aspects to the metaverse that remain theoretical or downright baffling, there are some things we know for certain: It's definitely coming, in many ways it's already here, and it has the potential to transform almost every aspect of our lives.

So Newshub and Chorus have teamed up to break down the metaverse into plain English and explain why New Zealand might be particularly well placed at the cutting edge in the future of tech.

Let's start with the basics.

What exactly is the metaverse?

While the original term is a throwback to classic sci fi novels, the modern metaverse essentially refers to both the everyday internet and entirely new worlds being experienced through the medium of virtual reality. 

In that sense, it's a natural progression in our digital journey. Once we only went online at a snail's pace on our desktops, then we took the internet with us everywhere on our phones and now the metaverse could allow us to bodily inhabit and interact with each other in digital space.

"A metaverse is really a network of three-dimensional virtual places where you can be really immersively involved and interact with other people. It's a network of connected worlds," explains Chorus spokesperson Kurt Rodgers. 

A woman using VR goggles.
A woman using VR goggles. Photo credit: Getty Images

Who is building it?

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is the most visible proponent of the metaverse and is pumping billions of dollars into research and development - even changing the name of Facebook's parent company to 'Meta'. 

However, tech giants from Microsoft to Google are also betting big on this technology being our future. No single company will control 'The Metaverse', much like no single company is responsible for the internet - everyone is instead competing to be the first to popularise the technology and become the market leader in experiences involving it. 

Of course, one of the key challenges in making that vision a reality is the staggering internet speeds required to render virtual spaces in real time. However, according to Kurt, New Zealand is actually well placed to be an innovator here, thanks to the incredible coverage of our hyperfast fibre broadband network which reaches over 85 percent of Kiwis. 

"The metaverse is going to keep driving demand for more data and more connectivity and higher performance. So that is one of the barriers or enablers of the metaverse. It's actually having that connectivity to enable that to happen and that's the role we see fibre playing."

While hyperfast broadband already delivers blistering speeds of up to 950Mbps, that's in no way the upper limit the technology is capable of. As the metaverse takes shape, its technology advances and its data demands increase, fibre will keep pace; providing the physical infrastructure which enables the virtual world. 

Wait, aren't virtual worlds already a thing?

Yes! Gaming is one area of tech with one foot already firmly inside the metaverse and it's expected the sector will lead the charge when it comes to widespread adoption. Immersive virtual reality titles like Half-Life Alyx by Valve or Resident Evil 7 in Playstation VR have set a benchmark for fully realised narrative experiences in a virtual world. Next generation gaming VR headsets are expected within the next year, which will open the door for many to take their first step into a proto-metaverse.  

In addition to gaming, Facebook's own Oculus Quest already allows you to explore much of the everyday internet, from web browsing to social media in digital space and is rapidly adding functionality to unlock new virtual vistas.

Paris Games Week 2019 : Press Day At Porte De Versailles In Paris.
Paris Games Week 2019 : Press Day At Porte De Versailles In Paris. Photo credit: Getty Images

What else could be brought into the metaverse?

Basically, everything. The ultimate goal of most metaverse tech is seamlessly interconnected virtual spaces that are photorealistic and used for all purposes: work, play and travel. Want to watch a band play Madison Square Garden and then instantly pop to Paris to catch up with a friend by the Seine?

That future could be closer than you think, with massive financial and environmental benefits flowing from those experiences being beamed directly into your living room but indistinguishable from the real thing. 

"I want to be sitting in Stamford Bridge watching Chelsea playing a Champions League game," says Kurt.

"But I can't afford to fly over to London and take my kids to watch them. Being able to actually have that experience virtually would be fantastic!" 

This sounds great! What's the catch?

Currently the biggest barriers to the early metaverse going mainstream are cost and comfort. Even an entry level virtual reality headset is many hundreds of dollars and the experience of wearing them can cause discomfort or nausea in some people.

Kurt says much of the nausea is actually caused by latency issues - delays between the user taking an action and having it reflected on screen – and, once again, New Zealand's robust broadband network can actually mitigate the issue. 

"And a lot of that [latency] to do is to do as the network connectivity is not quite fast enough. And so that's one thing the fibre network provides is that sort of extremely low latency response and that removes one of the discomfort aspects of virtual reality."

Another pitfall raised by critics is having the issues familiar to us from social media - from disinformation to privacy breaches - being supercharged in the metaverse. However, as Kurt points out, none of these issues are truly new and society always needs to adapt to each advance in technology. 

"I think these new technologies do always bring up the same issues and create the same challenges, and they just need to be solved again. How do we regulate bad behaviour in a new type of environment?"

Meta Store in Burlingame, California.
Meta Store in Burlingame, California. Photo credit: Getty Images

What does this mean for the future of work?

The pandemic forced remote work on most industries and as Kiwis adapted we discovered that productivity is not necessarily tied to being in any particular place. Early metaverse applications will likely involve making the ubiquitous Zoom meeting a more immersive experience by allowing colleagues to meet and interact virtually. Facebook already offers some of this functionality in its 'Workrooms' application which is currently in Beta testing on the Oculus Quest.  

But while metaverse technology will undoubtedly have some impact on our work/life balance, Kurt stresses that it won't be replacing the physical office entirely, instead enhancing the flexibility of working from home.

"You will still have a hybrid model of working from home and or coming into the office but using that technology to actually build those relationships will be a bit more immersive as well.” 

How far away are we from a fully realised metaverse?

It's hard to say but much of the technology underpinning the metaverse, from processing power to screen displays, is progressing exponentially - meaning the next decade will see far more progress than the previous one.

One thing is for certain, is whatever shape and form the metaverse takes, you'll be in the best position to enjoy it both professionally and personally if you ensure you’re getting the best out of your broadband connection. Check with your internet provider about your fibre options or head over to Chorus to learn more.  

This article was created for Chorus.