Meta’s Zuckerberg drums up support for metaverse as MWC 2022 kicks off

As the wireless industry prepares to kick off Mobile World Congress 2022 (MWC22) in Barcelona this week, Meta CEO, Chairman and founder Mark Zuckerberg gave a shoutout to all the telecom partners that have helped bring billions of people online to “access the social and economic opportunities of the internet.”

Zuckerberg isn’t doing a keynote at MWC this week, but his messages at previous, pre-Covid MWC events revolved around connecting the unconnected. In 2014, for example, he used his keynote appearance to push for his Internet.org coalition. That was the same year Facebook paid $19 billion to acquire Whatsapp, the over-the-top messaging service that competes with wireless carriers’ own SMS services.

Of course, Facebook, which last year changed its name to Meta, has sought to dispel any notion of competing with telecom operators. It’s an accusation that frequently comes up. But instead of competing with operators, it wants to partner with them – apparently even more so now that everyone’s moving to the metaverse.

To be sure, Meta’s desire to connect more people to the internet, and thereby its social networks, are no less than prior years. However, now it’s focused on building the metaverse, and it wants telecom operators to help in that endeavor.

RELATED: What the heck is ‘metaverse’ and will it affect wireless carriers?

Verizon isn’t mentioned as a partner, but it’s clearly on the metaverse bandwagon. In fact, according to Verizon, the metaverse is already here, and its edge compute and 5G Ultra Wideband network are making it happen. It’s not just for gaming, either; enterprises can use it for simulated sales and training functions, for example.

‘New types of networks’

Back to Meta’s message at MWC this year, the social networking giant says fast and reliable internet has enabled a shift in what’s shared and consumed online, toward increasingly immersive formats, from text to photos and now to video.

“Today, we’re at the start of the next transition as we build for the metaverse. But creating a true sense of presence in virtual worlds delivered to smart glasses and VR headsets will require massive advances in connectivity. Bigger than any of the step changes we’ve seen before. Things like remote rendering over edge compute cloud and wide-scale immersive video streaming will take entirely new types of networks,” Zuckerberg said in a statement.

“We need to create connectivity infrastructure that can evolve as fast as technology does. So we’ll continue to work with partners that share this vision for the next computing platform – supporting breakthroughs in this ecosystem over the next decade to make sure people around the world can participate in the metaverse we’re all building,” Zuckerberg concluded.

Metaverse = ‘unprecedented opportunity’

The move to the metaverse is an “unprecedented opportunity for the connectivity industry,” according to Meta VP of Connectivity Dan Rabinovitsj in a blog post. But it must be built on a foundation of openness and interoperability – and be accessible to as many people as possible, he added.

Meta certainly is familiar to openness when it comes to wireless networking. Meta’s Telecom Infra Project (TIP) is one of the early backers of the open Radio Access Network (RAN) movement. In 2020, it announced a program to build RAN reference designs and software for 4G and 5G networks in the open RAN ecosystem.

RELATED: TIP, O-RAN Alliance reach liaison agreement

Nowadays, re-imagining network infrastructure to support the computing platforms of the future is the next great connectivity challenge, Rabinovitsj wrote. He called on tech companies, mobile operators, service providers, policy-makers and more to prepare for the metaverse.

Exactly what will the metaverse look like? According to Meta, it will allow geographically distant participants to enjoy realistic, spatially-aware experiences that seamlessly blend virtual content in a user’s physical world and “empowers users to feel more connected with each other.” That’s sounds a lot like what mobile operators are trying to achieve through virtual reality and 5G/6G.  

“Delivering such an experience will require innovations in fields like hybrid local and remote real-time rendering, video compression, edge computing, and cross-layer visibility, as well as spectrum advocacy, work on metaverse readiness of future connectivity and cellular standards, network optimizations, improved latency between devices and within radio access networks (RANs), and more,” Rabinovitsj wrote. 

Metaverse Innovation Hub with Telefónica

In the coming years, Meta plans to work with its telecom partners in even more collaborative environments. Toward that end: Meta announced it’s working with Telefónica to establish a Metaverse Innovation Hub in Madrid to help accelerate metaverse network and device readiness through efforts like trials, use cases and device testing.

RELATED: Facebook VP on open RAN, Europe’s lead and tackling the digital divide

Part of that hub will include a place for startups and developers to access a 5G laboratory where they can use a metaverse end-to-end testbed on Meta and Telefónica’s network infrastructure and equipment and use other resources, Rabinovitsj said.

Rabinovitsj is fond of saying there are no silver bullets when it comes to solving connectivity challenges. Overcoming the challenges will take a global effort on the part of a lot of entities. “But the lesson of the mobile era, which brought fast, reliable internet to billions of people, shows how powerful the connectivity industry can be when it works together to serve the world,” he wrote.

Meta’s plans for MWC 2022 include a session, in collaboration with TIP, on developing metaverse-ready networks and forming new TIP project groups. A discussion will be hosted at the Telefonica booth on Tuesday.