The launch of e& universe is in partnership with HTC, the manufacturer of VR and mobile devices. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: How big should your Metaverse ambitions be? How about taking it all the way to Mars? That’s what UAE tech conglomerate e& (formerly Etisalat Group) will be doing, with the launch of its ‘e& universe’ and - this is where its get real interesting - hosting it virtually on Mars. Specifically at the ‘Arcadia Planitia’.

“Scientific research indicates Arcadia Planitia is a location most suitable for future life on Mars,” said Hatem Dowidar, Group CEO of e&. “According to NASA, it is one of the few regions where abundant shallow ice is present at relatively low latitude.

“The launch of e& universe is in partnership with HTC, the manufacturer of VR and mobile devices.”

e&’s Metaverse journey will formally launch at Gitex Global, which opens in Dubai October 10. “We are taking our first steps into the Metaverse,” the CEO added. “The next phase of this project is set to enthral users with the opportunity to purchase digital assets, watch virtual concerts and sporting events, purchase NFTs (non-fungible tokens), and many other digital experiences that are set be the first in the country and the region.”

According to Dowider, the telco’s other launch will be the ‘Metaverse Service’, a platform to provide optimum ‘user experience through diverse virtual spaces and avatars'. Done in tandem with SK Telecom, it will also allow users explore opportunities for social networking within the Metaverse.

A glimpse into the e& universe at Gitex. Image Credit: Supplied

“This platform provides the opportunity to visit the exclusive exhibition of e& NFTs alongside special artworks by international artists, and listen to K-Pop, poems, and various entertainment shows available in the world of metaphysics through VR and AR technologies,” said Dowidar.

It may still be early days in exploring what this alternate world of Metaverse has to offer users - individuals, governments, businesses - but Dowdier wants to place the telecom industry right in the engine room.

Do you think telcos of today already have the enabling networks for the Metaverse?

With the generational shift from 5G to 6G as we approach 2030, this will further the adoption of the Metaverse in daily life. Telcos can play a part in addressing network capacity and efficiency-related issues as Metaverse requires robust fibre connectivity, which delivers high-bandwidth speeds.

The Metaverse platforms will evolve from a series of various virtual worlds created individually by companies. There will come a time when a ‘super-virtual’ world will be formed. By investing in emerging Metaverse platforms, telcos will have the upper hand in building the in-depth technical expertise required to create the Metaverse of the future.

Telcos must expand beyond their traditional capabilities and more towards embracing a growth mindset where they are open to exploring innovative ideas. In fact, telcos can play a more prominent role in the Metaverse value chain by leveraging 5G, edge cloud, analytics and AI.

So, the building blocks of Metaverse can be done with existing 5G capabilities?

Metaverse technology may be in the early incubation stages, given that it needs high-bandwidth and low-latency communications to work at scale. Still, telcos must consider harnessing its potential for the betterment of lives, whether it is a virtual playground or shopping destination, or even using it as a training ground for smarter, more efficient AI and industrial manufacturing processes.

To get it to work at the grand scale we all envision will require robust connectivity solutions. This is where 5G becomes the fulcrum, given that mobile networks may not be able to handle the Metaverse network demands.

Telcos will also be required to partner with technology giants, internet tech companies, specialist cloud providers, device manufactures, technology platform providers as well as online game developers so that they can create a partner ecosystem for developing a solid Metaverse ecosystem. In that way, telcos can become the orchestrators of the Metaverse ecosystems by identifying collaborative opportunities with involved parties.

An Etisalat by e& business centre in the Metaverse, in collaboration with Huawei. Image Credit: Supplied

What would you say to those who think Metaverse real-life uses are still too far down the road?

This is an advanced Metaverse showcase presented by etisalat by e& in collaboration with Huawei, providing a digital 3D retail experience of the company’s business centre. Visitors can experience a real-life customer journey by using VR devices.

They can also access the services and products offered by tracking hand movement or through voice commands. This indicates the benefits of the Metaverse in taking customer experiences to a whole new level, where customers can connect and use digital services in real-time.

It is a world we are still exploring, and there’s so much untapped potential, since the Metaverse has already shown demonstrated multiple possibilities to transform the world of technology.

Harnessing the potential will certainly become the pivot that accelerates our progress to the next frontier of the digital realm.

And the same would apply to businesses wanting to be in the Metaverse?

There are multiple opportunities for entrepreneurs and technology companies to capitalise on. Gartner predicts that by 2026, 25 per cent of people will spend at least one hour a day in the Metaverse for work, shopping, studying, and socialising.

When it comes to experiences, games, concerts and other entertainment activities can offer additional revenue opportunities for talent. As for streaming entertainment, users could have a new medium for consuming entertainment when content aggregators start to create content meant for the Metaverse.

Travel opens up several possibilities as it is in this realm that the Metaverse goes beyond physical and temporal boundaries. Users can embark on a virtual trip to destinations they would like to visit in person at a later date.

- Hatem Dowidar, Group CEO of e&

Online shopping experiences in retail could become much more realistic with the Metaverse-ready body suits and innovative user interface devices, from the comfort of one’s home.

TechRepublic, an online trade publication for IT professionals, has reported that 91 per cent of organisations are planning to use Metaverse technologies over the next few years, where 60 per cent use VR/AR for production optimisation, 53 per cent use Metaverse technologies for enhancing customer care, and 26 per cent for corporate training.

At the same time, the Metaverse allows creators the freedom to set up environments where they can meet, unite and customise content for their specific viewers.

When we speak about our commitment to offering customer experiences that transcend everything they have experienced before, we are not only showcasing how technologies can digitally empower societies, we are looking at how we can design deeper levels of personalisation beyond anything we have done before, whether it be customer experience, a user journey, or retail purchases."

UAE’s fast-tracking on being all-digital

“When it comes to AI and metaverse, the UAE has a strong and clear vision and strategy,” according to the e& CEO.

“With the AI strategy, the UAE aims to become the world leader in AI by 2031 in alignment with the UAE Centennial 2071. The country’s vision includes creating massive socio-economic growth, becoming a knowledge economy and generating up to Dh335 billion in extra growth. (An estimated) $120 billion is the anticipated contribution of AI to the economic growth of the UAE by 2030.

In addition to having the world’s first AI minister, the UAE government has taken the lead even in establishing the world’s first graduate-level AI university in Abu Dhabi, the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI), empowering students and businesses to advance AI in all aspects of life.

In July, Dubai announced it was looking to shape the future of AI by setting up the Higher Committee for Future Technology and Digital Economy, focused on investments in the Metaverse and establishing strategic partnerships.

This followed the launch of the Dubai Metaverse Strategy, which aims to foster innovation and application of new-age technologies, ensuring the Metaverse increases its contribution to 1 per cent of the emirate’s overall GDP. The strategy will also see the increased contribution of the Metaverse sector to the Dubai’s economy to $4 billion by 2030.

Also in July, the Dubai government also announced that it is going to take its government into the Metaverse to allow users access to services in an integrated network of 3D virtual worlds. Abu Dhabi and Dubai became the first global cities with a global Metaverse launch by UAE-based Metaverse Holdings.

The UAE will be the first ‘utilised’ hub within the first virtual world that replicates real-life experiences and places. This is where users worldwide will experience the best attractions and iconic landmarks from the comfort of their homes as the experiences will merge both the physical and digital worlds. This year, the UAE announced the Digital Economy Strategy, which aims to double the contribution of the digital economy to the UAE’s GDP from 11.7 per cent to over 20 per cent within the next 10 years.

“The UAE is among the top 25 per cent of countries in the most important global digital indicators, where the contribution of the digital economy to the non-oil GDP is 11.7 per cent, and the UAE’s GDP is 9.7 per cent.

It is worth noting that the ICT sector has been the driving force in the digital economy.

The UAE has developed the UAE Digital Government Strategy 2025 to merge all digital aspects into overall government strategies and integrate them on a national level, which will ensure a world-class digital infrastructure for the UAE.

“This latest launch from e& into the Metaverse highlights our commitment to the vision of the leadership in enhancing the country’s position to the forefront across all global ICT indicators, digital competitiveness and adoption of the most modern and advanced technologies,” Dowidar said.

“We are all so privileged to be part of the digital economy journey of this country, as digitalisation and, more specifically, the adoption of the Metaverse creates additional opportunities for economic growth as well as adds value for our customers and shareholders.”