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The metaverse is not a passing fad; In fact, it’s likely coming to a workplace near you — and some pieces of the foundation are there already.

Ciena recently commissioned a report to better understand business professionals’ sentiments about the metaverse in the workplace. What it found was that the appetite for the metaverse was more voracious than we could have predicted. Of the 15,000 business professionals surveyed across the globe, more than three-quarters (78%) said they would participate in more immersive experiences like the metaverse as opposed to current tools such as videoconferencing.

Interestingly, 87% of business professionals confirmed that they would feel comfortable conducting human resources meetings in a virtual space; 71% of professionals can see the metaverse becoming part of existing work practices; and 40% think their business will move away from the traditional/static collaboration environment to a more immersive and virtual reality-based environment in the next two years.

This may have been driven by the pandemic, which has accelerated a shift towards working from home and meeting via teleconferencing solutions. The result has been that people once averse to remote meetings now believe in the productivity gains these technologies provide.

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But if teleconferencing solutions to date have provided the convenience many of us are happy with, why are people so willing to dive further into the metaverse?

The workplace metaverse: Beyond 2D

It’s because the applications being developed for the metaverse offer the business world a refreshing improvement over current solutions. They enable an immersive experience, a workplace metaverse, that ensures remote meetings become interactive.

It comes down to immersion and the ability to move beyond 2D interactions into an interactive environment. This is something like the merging of in-person interaction and teleconferencing to become something in between, and something simply more interesting.  

On that note, when it comes to selecting their avatar for the virtual world, 35% of business professionals would choose an avatar that reflects their real-world self, 22% would choose an idealistic version and only 10% would pick a pop culture figure.

Clearly, the metaverse offers people a choice in how they interact with others and how they present themselves. A 2D environment turns into a 360-degree virtual space that offers limitless possibilities. It means the days of cat filters stubbornly not turning off could become a thing of the past, with the metaverse allowing us to present in a virtual immersive space free of distractions from the outside world.

Bandwidth: The foundation of meta-life

But the lifeblood of these applications is bandwidth. Without reliable networks, the weight of the virtual environment could come crashing down. For the metaverse to be a truly viable option, bandwidth needs to be consistent, and to enable large amounts of traffic to traverse wide area networks quickly while also minimizing latency.

To many respondents, this is a concern that may dampen their outlook for the workplace metaverse, with 38% of respondents expressing concerns that their current networks would not be able to handle the additional burden. In fact, network reliability is a bigger concern than the belief that immersive applications/tools are not yet widely available.

The concern is well founded, particularly when you consider that with work-from-home (WFH) flexibility now part and parcel of any workplace, residential networks and 5G are expected to handle a lot of the heavy bandwidth lifting. If they can’t, the metaverse could become a glitchy hassle that businesses discard as a cute toy that wasn’t robust enough for mission-critical use.

Service providers enabling tomorrow’s demands

Service providers are already anticipating the additional demands and are investing heavily in new network architectures and technologies that enable more traffic over their existing infrastructures. Providers are increasingly enhancing their networks with automation and artificial intelligence (AI) technology, enabled by the combination of analytics and programmable software capabilities that make them adaptive.

An adaptive virtual programmable network can identify a fault and self-heal, without the need for a technician. It can draw resources — compute, storage, bandwidth — from underutilized areas to ramp up other parts of the metaverse seeing increased activity and revert automatically when required.

Furthermore, with the workplace now everywhere and anywhere, metaverse meetings need to work seamlessly wherever the user logs in from. Cafés and homes at the edge of town are now effectively the offices of tomorrow. Network operators are likewise investing increasingly in creating easy access to edge computing capabilities to reduce network latency and improve reliability at the edges of the network.

While business professionals may be concerned about the reliability of the networks they depend on, their pessimism may be misplaced as service providers are anticipating the needs of tomorrow’s networks. As that perception fades, it will be replaced by a (virtual) reality in which we’re meeting in avatar form in an immersive environment, and possibly sooner than people ever envisioned.

Steve Alexander is CTO of Ciena.

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