The metaverse has the potential to create a new digital economy worth billions of dollars. It will encompass diverse experiences, networks and consumers. The metaverse will not be a single, monolithic entity. Rather, it will be a collection of interconnected communities, platforms and applications. Each of these components will evolve over time, and new ones will emerge as the metaverse matures.
Indian businesses, particularly telecom operators and equipment manufacturers, are well positioned to leverage opportunities in the metaverse domain given their experience in providing connectivity and services.
The metaverse opportunity
The metaverse, representing the internet as a single, universal and immersive virtual world, is still in its early development stages. However, it has the potential to create a digital economy in India. According to a report by Arthur D. Little, the metaverse market opportunity in India is expected to reach $1.6 billion by the end of 2023. This is further expected to grow at an annual rate of nearly 40 per cent, reaching $200 billion by 2035.
The metaverse opportunity in India is being driven by a number of factors, such as:
- The large and growing population of internet users in India. A report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India revealed that India currently has over 759 million active internet users, a figure expected to grow to 900 million by 2025.
- The decreasing costs of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) equipment is a positive development for the metaverse industry. This trend is driving the adoption of these technologies in the country and making it easier to monetise the metaverse assets.
- Recent developments have ushered in unprecedented changes in the VR space, as blockchain, decentralised finance and non-fungible tokens are converging to unlock the potential of the metaverse.
- Several Indian businesses are exploring the potential of the metaverse to reach new customers, improve customer engagement, and develop new products and services.
Adoption in India
The metaverse is still in its early stages of development in India but is poised to grow exponentially in the coming years. Recent announcements at the Consumer Electronics Show 2023 regarding mixed-reality hardware launches, innovative displays, and enterprise metaverse application platforms suggest that the metaverse is a key area of interest in India. For instance, Telephone Communication Limited (TCL) launched a variety of wearable displays, including AR glasses designed for navigational information and language translations; High Tech Computer announced a pair of lightweight, mixed-reality glasses; LG Electronics introduced a 3D sensing module for VR devices; and Nvidia expanded its Omniverse platform to enable the creation of interactive avatars.
Kiya.ai, a company specialising in artificial intelligence (AI) and emerging technology solutions, recently launched BharatMeta, the first metaverse platform of its kind from India, at the VivaTech conference in Paris in 2023. Bharatmeta has been envisioned as a platform that is all-inclusive and universally accessible, catering to users across a wide range of devices, from cutting-edge extended reality headsets to portable laptops, handheld mobile handsets, and convenient kiosks. The goal of the company is to ensure that both urban and rural populations can reap the benefits of the metaverse.
As a part of its participation in the Auto Expo 2023, DaveAI collaborated with Maruti Suzuki India Limited to launch an exclusive metaverse platform called EXPOVerse. This metaverse platform replicated the entire Maruti Suzuki expo space within the virtual ecosystem. The immersive space showcased 16 cars in multiple zones, and allowed users to virtually test drive the cars and explore the metaverse. The experience is currently available on VR devices across over 1,500 Maruti Suzuki dealership outlets in India. Meanwhile, DaveAI launched ArenaVerse, an exclusive metaverse for Maruti Suzuki’s Arena showroom, and a 3D visualiser for Hindware.
Anritsu Corporation and InterDigital also developed a 5G communications simulation environment to demonstrate how an immersive user experience can be enhanced. The environment uses the advanced features of Anritsu’s MT8000A Network Simulator and the RTD custom script environment. InterDigital is using the environment to demonstrate innovative connectivity concepts that enable a high quality immersive user experience.
Tech Mahindra also announced a strategic partnership with EarthID to co-create a blueprint for a self-sovereign identity-powered metaverse platform that will provide users control over their data, privacy and content, while also enabling enterprises to protect their metaverse environments from malicious threats such as distributed-denial of service attacks, data breaches and phishing attacks.
The metaverse has received a positive response across India, with companies from various sectors competing to tap into this growing market. This is evident from the recent investments and partnerships, as well as the growing number of metaverse-related start-ups and initiatives.
A new frontier for telecom
Telecom operators are well positioned to leverage the opportunities presented by the metaverse for several reasons. First, they have the infrastructure in place to provide high speed, low latency connectivity that is essential for immersive metaverse experiences. Second, they have expertise in developing and deploying new technologies. Third, they have the reach and scale to introduce the metaverse to a mass audience.
Globally, telcos have started preparing for the upcoming metaverse boom. For instance, to future-proof its business, MTN purchased 144 plots of digital land in the Ubuntuland, part of the African metaverse Africarare. This move is part of MTN’s strategy to engage its customers in new and innovative ways, and offer them new experiences in gaming and music.
Meanwhile, South Korea’s SK Telecom has launched its own metaverse platform, ifland. The platform allows users to create their own avatars and explore a variety of virtual worlds, from concerts and sporting events to educational and business simulations. The app is optimised for users to interact with each other’s “digital homes”. SK Telecom has also partnered with other telecommunications operators, such as Deutsche Telekom and e&, to expand ifland into other markets. SK Telecom, Deutsche Telekom and T-Mobile US will also produce content customised to local preferences and will jointly promote the metaverse offering.
In India, Bharti Airtel partnered with NASSCOM to set up a metaverse lab in Bengaluru, while Vodafone Idea Limited partnered with Tech Mahindra to explore the use of the metaverse for education. Further, Reliance Jio is working towards developing its own metaverse platform and has also partnered with Microsoft to develop metaverse solutions.
These are just a few examples of telecom operators and equipment manufacturers using the metaverse in 2023. As the metaverse continues to evolve, telcos will play an increasingly prominent role in the sector.
The way ahead
The metaverse is expected to become a $13 trillion opportunity globally by 2030, contributing to nearly 8 per cent of the $160 trillion GDP by 2030. Overall, the metaverse has the potential to be a major driver of growth and innovation in India. According to a report published by PwC, almost 70 per cent of business executives in India are planning to integrate metaverse into their organisational activities. In addition, 63 per cent of companies are actively engaged in the metaverse and are expected to fully integrate it into their organisational activities within this year.
Moreover, the metaverse has the potential to disrupt the telecom industry. Telecom companies that can embrace this new technology and adapt their business models accordingly are poised for success in the coming years. The PwC report further highlighted that over 79 per cent of companies in the Indian telecom sector have a detailed or good understanding of the metaverse domain, which is expected to yield positive benefits for the Indian telecom space. The metaverse is anticipated to play a significant role in India’s future as the country continues its journey towards developing a new digital economy.