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The Metaverse Can Happen: “All of it can be solved over time” – Markus Nispel

Markus Nispel Vice President of International Markets, Office of the CTO Published 10 Dec 2021

markus on the metaverse text over a markus headshot

A conversation with Markus Nispel, VP of International Markets at the Office of the CTO

Markus, there’s a new thing dominating tech talk today: the Metaverse. But it’s the people at companies like Extreme Networks who are going to build and operate the system that will allow the Metaverse to function. So the question is: Is it legit? Can it be built?

Can it be built with all of the tech that we have today? I mean, the point that Facebook and others are making is that they want to heavily invest in the Metaverse. So certainly, there are things that remain to be built. But I think the core building blocks are there.

If you look at how the underlying technology around reality augmentation has evolved over the last couple of years — whether it’s virtual reality or augmented reality — now we are entering a phase of what people call “extended” reality. Those components have become available and are viable as building elements. They will likely be the building blocks that form the first incarnation of the Metaverse, which will likely be a combination of real and virtual environments merged into one.

However, the Metaverse is not only about extended reality. It is about bringing an extended reality and other components together. If you look at the technology being used to exchange money, you will likely see a wave of blockchain technologies that also become part of the Metaverse.

There’s a lot of work left to do, no question, in getting those components working together. Pervasive, reliable, high-performance connectivity is going to be really important. Consistent and reliable connectivity is needed to make the Metaverse happen; otherwise, it won’t be as realistic as end-users desire.

From that point of view, especially in a highly-distributed Infinite Enterprise cyber scenario, there’s certainly more work needed to ensure the supporting network capabilities. But it’s coming together. The bigger question for me is, “what use cases and scenarios are going to get addressed with this technology?”

Where do you see companies taking the Metaverse? Where do you think it can go?

When you see the Facebook announcement, you would think, `Hey, it’s the next social media platform!” But in one of the Inflection Points podcasts, we discussed how a Metaverse potentially impacts retail. Will you want to go to a physical mall if you can shop in a virtual one, where everything fits you just right?

The Metaverse could potentially offer companies a much better way to communicate with employees in an Infinite Enterprise environment. And it potentially creates higher loyalty and more of a collective awareness in all employees. I believe that if Metaverse technologies go more towards that route – becoming a tool that businesses can use rather than becoming another social media platform – it will accomplish more for society.

What is the biggest issue you see in building the Metaverse?

Who owns the platform? I think standardization. Having multiple players being able to provide solutions in that space will happen. So, I think the openness of those platforms will be essential because people don’t always want to be on a platform totally controlled by a single large corporation.

On the infrastructure side, the technology will be solved — we will be able to solve and address those needs over time. If you think about pervasive connectivity, high-performance, reliability, and security – all of which you will need for the Metaverse — you will see public 5G, private 5G, and Wi-Fi 6E as the underpinnings with secure connectivity and reliable connectivity sitting on top of that. All of this will be solved over time. The processing power needed for the Metaverse will also be available in the latest Cloud platforms.

But how do you work with all of these components? And also, how do you make sure that a single company does not control everything? I think this is critical as we move forward. Having an open and democratized approach to the Metaverse becomes crucial – it will be really exciting to see how this plays out.

You’ve talked about retail and social media – what are the further use cases that you see for the Metaverse?

It could be a new world that we all live in. But do we want to live in that world? That’s certainly a question that everybody needs to ask themselves. If you just look at the use cases around this being, let’s say, a gaming and a social platform, I think you probably won’t see the adoption that some of those Metaverse companies are looking for. Once again, we need to define meaningful use cases for enterprise verticals while at the same time using the Metaverse to drive business and improve business. It will be interesting. That’s where it needs to go.

When you hear of these ideas like the Metaverse, or even the Matrix, from 25 years ago, do you immediately think, “I could build that?” Or how do you react?

(laughs). No, I think in the past, I did try to do that. But based on recent history, I think it has been shown and proven that we can build a Metaverse. Specifically, if you look at what’s happening with the Internet of Things and all the technologies that cross the physical and virtual world what’s clear is that everything can be built. It’s just a matter of time.

The more interesting question is, “Does it even make sense to build something like that?” If we examine the use case, is it compelling enough? Is there a business case behind it? Are we doing more than “Hey, we want to change society!” Because that’s probably not the primary driver of many businesses. Some maybe, but not all.

So I’m thinking more about, “What does a company do to monetize the Metaverse? How will they create benefits for customers and users that make them pay for it? I’m thinking more about the use cases and monetization first. What’s the business model behind it?”

Then I think about how we would build it. Because I think that’s also a misconception. Often ideas start with technology, but instead, what is needed is a sound business model. Innovation comes first, and technology after that. But the business case funds both.

It that a key question when it comes to the future of technology: Do you make something because you can make it? Or do you make something with purpose?

Obviously: Do it with purpose. But more than that: You must figure out what the goal is as part of the innovation cycle. Design thinking becomes really important: Empathize with the customer, understand what the customer is looking for. Only then build it and innovate along the way. Don’t build something just because you can! I think the industry has suffered from that phenomenon, not only our industry but also other industries. And there are also a lot of failures along the way. And you can certainly avoid it by listening more to customers’ problems.

On the other hand, you shouldn’t just build what the customer is explicitly saying. You need to build towards solving unmet needs that you identify as part of the conversation with the customer because that’s where the future lies. Something that is more like an immediate need, where a customer expresses an immediate problem, can be a good starter. But you don’t stop there. You need to be careful not to stop there.

If you had said in America 30 years ago that everyone would pay for $5 coffee, you would have got laughed out of the room. But then Starbucks showed up and now everyone wants to pay $5 for coffee! Obviously, customers don’t always know what they want though, right?

That’s certainly the other side of the coin. Consider the cellular phone. There was a need for mobile communication and being reachable, allowing you to reach anybody at any point in time. People just didn’t know that. So nobody said, “I need a mobile phone,” in the ‘90s or late ‘80s. But ultimately, cellular technology evolved over time and now we even have smartphones. The business models on how cellular technology evolved also became commercially viable and accessible to everybody. And then you had a tidal wave of users. The smartphone was the same thing – another wave.

The Metaverse might evolve in the same way. It might solve the problem of being dispersed and allow for a new feeling of connection. But it needs to do more than that to realize the vision being talked about today. They’re not going to invent new tech that spreads out for people the way that they might want. It has to be a solution within reach because, ultimately, Facebook probably doesn’t want to have a 20-year development cycle. They are likely looking at a three- or five-year horizon to get something to market. Facebook has thousands of employees working on it. That’s the investment. They have even changed their brand name. They’ve made so much of an investment that if they don’t do anything with it, they’re not going to look good.

This interview was conducted by Jon Filson, Senior Content Producer, Office of the CTO.

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