Telefónica jostles for position in the metaverse

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Telefónica Chairman José María Álvarez-Pallete says ‘the metaverse will be the most profound change the Internet has undergone’ – but is it time the telecoms sector got specific as to what its place is in all this?

During an event called South Summit Telefónica Chairman José María Álvarez-Pallete took part in a panel called ‘Accelerated innovation; a values driven change’ in which he espoused the virtues of innovation in general (which is hard to be against after all) and specifically predicted that “the metaverse will be the most profound change the Internet has undergone since its birth… Now it is time to give a concrete purpose to all this technology, because it is people who give meaning to technology and not the other way around.”

Insisting that his firm “works to ensure that innovation finds its breeding ground in telecommunications networks”, Álvarez-Pallete highlighted the central role telecoms infrastructure plays in cutting edge tech areas such as the metaverse: “None of this can exist without the super connectivity provided by 5G and fibre networks, and with key technologies such as Edge Computing, the cloud and of course cybersecurity, essential for the new digital world”.

Of course, whenever firms talk about digital transformation in various forms there’s always the obvious question of what happens to all the staff doing the jobs that you are pivoting away from. Referencing it’s Global Innovation and Talent Hub, which apparently aims to turn Telefónica’s headquarters into ‘a large interconnected centre for 5G, AI, fibre, Edge Computing, Deep Learning, IoT, Cloud, Cybersecurity, Blockchain and video,’ Álvarez-Pallete said: “Reskilling is one of the biggest challenges we face. We have one of the largest retraining programmes in Europe for our employees.”

Obviously no one is against forward thinking, and certainly any firm that doesn’t engage in some sort of even modest innovation won’t be around for long. But these statements do raise the question of what exactly is the telecoms industry’s relationship to all these bleeding edge sectors like the metaverse, blockchain and deep learning? Telefónica seems to think the telecoms sector is automatically involved in them, but it’s not always so obvious as to how, other than providing the underlying connectivity.

The metaverse would appear to have more to do with big tech and the gaming industry than telecoms directly per say, it being presented to us as basically virtual reality software. It might be that telecoms firms can be a fountain of innovation for these new tech areas, and we’d certainly be all for that. But right now it could be said that some of that is assumed, and there is a fair amount of woolly talking on the matter.

What, for example, does it mean to say that 5G will be at the heart of the metaverse? And what does an operator have to do with it once the mast is up? If telecoms firms are to be involved in the more juicy, end result of next gen connectivity, what is it they want to bring to the table? As the telecoms sector evolves these are important questions to ask, but we need to go beyond just invoking the buzzwords.


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