Imagine the year is 2028. An established regional real estate company has started hearing complaints from customers who want the ability to tour homes in the metaverse. This new VR service, offered by a number of large national competitors, would be incredibly challenging for the regional firm to create on its own. It would require building and rendering multi-dimensional content, reimagining customer engagement touchpoints and interactions, and spinning up entirely new payment and authentication mechanisms — capabilities far removed from the core real estate business.
Fortunately, the real estate firm has recently learned about metaverse-as-a-service (MaaS), a new offering from its trusted communications service provider (CSP). The CSP’s MaaS offering allows the real estate firm to quickly leverage the right hardware, software, technology consulting services, connectivity, and metaverse platform to build out VR home tours. In a matter of weeks or months, prospective customers have access to the VR functionality they wanted. The realty firm experiences renewed growth, and the bond between the firm and its CSP is stronger than ever.
As the metaverse value chain matures, numerous SMBs (and even large companies) will find themselves in a similar position. Metaverse capabilities will be essential to stay competitive, yet will require specialized metaverse expertise that most companies simply don’t have. MaaS providers will emerge to fill this gap, and CSPs are ideally positioned to own the MaaS value chain.
What Does Metaverse-as-a-Service Mean for CSPs?
CSPs are already considering future metaverse business models. A recent Forum report surfaces numerous new opportunities beyond basic connectivity, suggesting that CSPs may be able to unlock multiple new metaverse value streams. Key areas of business growth may include application-specific connectivity solutions, ecosystem interoperability, metaverse security services, identity and privacy services, immersive devices, and new customer experiences.
Package such capabilities into a defined enterprise offering, and a metaverse-as-a-service business model arises. This one-stop-shop will enable enterprises across numerous industries to develop and launch metaverse products without incurring the costs required to develop significant internal metaverse expertise.
The use cases for such an enterprise offering are numerous:
- Virtual stadia that allow friends to watch 3D sports tournaments in a shared digital space
- Functional metaverse bank branches that allow customers to take advantage of core banking services within a metaverse platform
- VR services for healthcare providers and life sciences companies to advance remote diagnosis and treatment as well as hybrid clinical trials
- Connectivity and hardware to enable digital site inspection, remote condition monitoring and digital twins in the context of construction, oil and gas, and other heavy industries
- Immersive and connected retail experiences, including providing virtual world avatars with digital twins of real-world purchases
With the expansion of 5G coverage, CSPs will inherently be key partners as all enterprises build out their metaverse trajectories. It seems only natural that CSPs would seek to build on these network enhancement projects with a new suite of offerings that allows them to sell the services, technology, and infrastructure that make the metaverse tick.
CSPs already have the marketplace and developer network to begin building out metaverse-as-a-service plays. They understand content management. Their current platforms are API-ified, so they can integrate with any external standardized API, onboard partners and platforms, incorporate blockchain- and NFT-based transactions, and integrate unified services out of those synergies.
Standard product companies might be able to provide aspects of metaverse experiences and platforms, and big tech players are likely to pursue MaaS as well. But they lack a crucial piece of the puzzle: The ability to provide connectivity speed assurances. Guaranteed connectivity will be absolutely essential to delivering a user-friendly metaverse experience, and only CSPs are positioned to provide that end-to-end quality of service.
The innate billing strengths of CSPs will give them further leverage to take advantage of the metaverse.
They already have billing relationships with numerous enterprise clients, and are well positioned to sell their MaaS services as an extension of their connectivity services while also enabling convenient forms of usage-based billing for metaverse ecosystem players. At the same time, their billing relationships with retail customer may allow them to essentially “own” the retail billing for numerous experiences, much as cable providers bundle and sell network television. If CSPs can become be the funnels through which a significant share of metaverse revenue flows, they will be able to take more ownership of service creation and design, and in turn further solidify their MaaS business models.
The Challenges Ahead
While CSPs are already well-positioned to play a dominant role in the metaverse value chain, that is not to say that the road ahead will be simple. They will also need to contend with several innate challenges, including:
- Legacy BSS/OSS systems:To innovate at the speed of the metaverse, CPSs will need to break through entrenched organizational silos (including BSS/OSS silos) and move towards a MACH-based architecture (microservices, API-first, cloud-native, and headless).
- Lengthy business processes: CSPs will need to simplify and harmonize existing business processes, and in particular carve out on-demand business processes. They can improve delivery timelines by shifting toward agile approaches, but cultural resistance to agile approaches may be a major challenge for some enterprises.
- Product-based mindsets: CSPs will need to shift from a product-based mindset to a platform-based mindset, creating “bring your own components” (BYOC) models that allow partners to bring their own components and integrate with the platform.
More broadly, CSPs will face new uncertainties. Will the most difficult barrier to providing metaverse-as-a-service turn out to be designing the platform(s), finding the right business models, or enabling metaverse IT capabilities? That remains an open question.
In addition, they will have to contend with a lack of complete control over the device ecosystem. A mature metaverse economy will require literally billions of convenient, lightweight metaverse devices. As the metaverse device ecosystem evolves, it will to some extent mirror the mobile device ecosystem: CSPs may not design or manufacture devices, but they will certainly sell them, and they will find competitive advantages insofar as they can access the most cutting-edge devices and pair them with metaverse platforms that delight end users. Given the biological, technical, and ergonomic complexity of providing an optimal metaverse experience, a particularly intense form of collaboration between chip designers, device manufacturers, content/application creators, new age payment providers, and CSPs may be required to accelerate metaverse adoption and build mutually beneficial revenue streams.
An Opportunity Too Good to Overlook
Without a proactive strategy, CSPs will play a crucial but limited role in the metaverse: connectivity providers. But they can also choose a more ambitious path. If they leverage their role as connectivity providers to offer services beyond connectivity, CSPs can position themselves to control new metaverse value streams rather than simply respond to them.