Is Africa Metaverse a possibility or a mirage?

By Alex Owiti

Africa has the greatest opportunity to set its own virtual world, popular as metaverse, based on the web 3.0 advent. Just like cloud technology that has now become available everywhere, Africa can turn metaverse into a blessing – the continent is lucky because of the over 30 submarine cables currently offering high speed broadband.

In Kenya a lone, there are 6 submarine cables, including SEACOM, TEAMS, EASSy, LION2, DARE1 and PEACE, as per Submarine Cable NetworkS website. Telkom Kenya owns a 23% stake in TEAMS, a 10% stake in LION2 and 2.6% stake in EASSy. 

Content and cloud giants such as Facebook and Google can gain from these cables because some of them exude 100G wavelength of broadband speeds. We have also seen companies such as AWS and Microsoft setting up their own data centres in Africa.

It is also interesting to note that Google, with its major partnership with West Indian Ocean Cable Company (WIOCC), recently launched a cable, Equiano. The Internet cable, named after Olaudah Equiano, a historical abolitionist, has a capacity of 144 terabits (18 Terabytes). Per the tech giant, it will be introducing 20 times more power and higher levels of durability than the last cable built to serve the West African region. 

According to TEchCrunch, Facebook last year announced that its 2Africa cable would now extend to over 45,000 kilometers with the addition of nine landings collectively dubbed the 2Africa Pearls. The subsea cable will directly connect Africa, Europe and Asia.

The extension will see 2Africa become the longest subsea cable system in the world upon completion, Facebook said. It will beat the current record set by the SEA-ME-WE 3 line that stretches 39,000 km and connects 33 countries across South East Asia, Middle East and Western Europe.

At the same time, telco companies in Africa are now transitioning into 5G network which is essential for virtual and augment reality environments that support the metaverse technology which is grounded on blockchain elements. But why does it need 5G to succeed? 

Ericsson Mobile Network Infrastructure and technology provider believes that 5G is a critical enabler for the metaverse and its device and application developer ecosystem. It is because of the many features and requirements such as the ubiquitous access, accessible XR devices, edge-cloud capabilities, pertinent standards, and ease-of-use for the developer community, which go beyond the usual connectivity. 

In terms of ubiquitous access, for instance, there are numerous wireless connectivity technologies with the most popular being Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cellular technologies. Bluetooth lacks range, rate and reliability. Current generations of Wi-Fi offer the required rate but suffer from congestion and thus high latencies once several XR devices are connected simultaneously; Wi-FI 7 promises to address the congestion issue but is nowhere near the range and global coverage offered by cellular technologies. 

According to CitiGPS Report, Metaverse as a concept has been around for a few decades. However, interest in the virtual world spiked at the end of 2021 following a rise in sales of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) as well as announcements from Big Tech players indicating their interest and investment in that space.

Today, the most popular way to experience the Metaverse is through a video game played on a virtual reality (VR) headset, a typical community-owned, community-governed, and a freely interoperable version that ensures privacy by design. Users should increasingly be able to access a host of features, including commerce, art, media, advertising, healthcare, and social collaboration.

A deviceagnostic Metaverse would be accessible via personal computers, game consoles, and smartphones, resulting in a large ecosystem. Using this broad definition, the total addressable market for the Metaverse could be between $8 trillion and $13 trillion by 2030, with total Metaverse users numbering around five billion. But getting to that market level is going to require infrastructure investment.

There is less consensus around design choices pertaining to Metaverse at the moment, but should it be “open” – built on Web3 primitives (building blocks) of permissionless and open protocols? Or “closed” – built by the capital-efficient, easy-to-use Web2 platforms?

In an Open Metaverse world, there is likely to be significant technological and business model disruption. This new world would be a blockchain-based ecosystem. In CitiGPS report, Polygon Co-Founder Sandeep Nailwal says Web3 and blockchain-based technologies will be part of the Metaverse. 

“I estimate by 2025, we could have at least 50 million users (possibly even 100 million) in the blockchain space…by 2030, I believe Web3 could take over the internet, even as Web2 continues to coexist,” says Nailwal.  

The writer is director of communications, Usiku Games

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