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Taking the Metaverse a Step at a Time

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The metaverse is not going to have a grand opening. No grinning avatar with an oversize pair of virtual scissors will cut a giant virtual ribbon on a digital copy of the physical spaces we already know. Instead, the quality that defines the metaverse — a blurring or convergence of virtual and real-world engagement — is already starting to occur, and this process will grow incrementally over the coming years.
That was the message I heard when Vonage CEO Rory Read sat down with me for a Fireside Chat on the keynote stage at Enterprise Connect last month. As we head into the post-pandemic/pre- (or proto)-metaverse world, Vonage is uniquely positioned among the platform players due to its impending acquisition by Ericsson, with its size and powerful position in 5G mobility infrastructure. In our Enterprise Connect conversation, Read highlighted Ericsson’s 25,000-strong R&D team as a key marker of how the combination could transform Vonage. “They have the ability to invest, to accelerate our opportunity to capture this future,” he said.
The deal is on track to close in the first half of this year, Read said, after which the Ericsson-owned Vonage will be able to leverage that 5G capability to create for users — in a phrase Read came back to repeatedly in our conversation — “immersive 360-degree engagement.”
At a technical level, this means moving communications platform as a service (CPaaS) from a technology whose nearly 300 billion daily notifications currently are mostly one-way — the now-familiar notification that a flight is delayed or a take-out meal is ready for pickup. “We’re beginning to see conversations emerge,” Read said.
The conversational engagement of the future, where that initial message integrates seamlessly as the start of a two-way customer engagement, requires integration across multiple organizations that currently remain siloed in many enterprises — customer contact, marketing, sales, and support, Read said: “You have to have the CPaaS and API underpinning that enables you. And now combining that with a [5G] network.”
“Today the integration across these functions is not there,” he continued. “But the APIs, the network, and the cloud infrastructure — mobility, which probably becomes your key, like an old RSA security key, that moves with you or with your avatar: That’s going to create this new way of interacting.”
Yes, he said “avatar,” which immediately conjures up the idea of the metaverse. I asked Read if this was a word he shied away from or embraced.
“The metaverse is real, but I don’t want to [make it] all about augmented reality, and we move too far to the virtual,” he responded. “You really need the combination. People, customers, team members, expect to engage with companies wherever they are.”
Read used a flight cancellation as an example. “If you have a physical location, your ticket desk at the airport, and I’ve gotten the notification that my flight is canceled, then on my screen, I get a video interaction with an agent who knows my history, my data. They tell me I have these three options; I choose one. I’m walking into the airport; I immediately engage with someone at the counter, who knows, ‘Oh, hi Mr. Read, we see that you’ve been working with so and so.’ That’s traversing the physical and virtual.”
This might seem like a trivial challenge from a technology standpoint, but any contact center decision-maker can tell you that getting all of these interactions into a single, seamless channel is anything but simple. It also reminds me of where our industry was, maybe a decade ago, when it came to collaboration systems.
The Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) had unlocked the potential that a particular communications session, or call, could start as telephony, then the participants could decide to add video and might subsequently suggest screen sharing to collaborate on a document. Nowadays, this scenario really is trivial, and you probably have done it several times already today. But the technical underpinnings had to be created — and maybe just as crucially, this had to be a scenario that users desired. A decade or more ago, collaborating in this manner seemed cool and interesting, but the urgency that made it an unremarkable daily occurrence only really emerged with the pandemic.
Read predicts that the view of a more seamless convergence of the physical and virtual words will emerge over time — “It’s not a light-switch,” he said. But, he added, “you’re going to see more and more examples of this. Not because it’s just a good technology. It’s because customers and team members will demand that this experience will occur.”
To revisit the Fireside chat in its entirety, you can view it with this Enterprise Connect TV video here, queued to the start of the conversation.