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Scaling virtual worlds
Earlier this month, EDM DJ Marshmello gave a live concert in the videogame Fortnite for which more than 10 million people tuned in simultaneously. It indicates that virtual worlds are scaling up and connect more and more people. With higher processing power, network capacity, and lower latency, the number of people that can simultaneously interact with each other in a virtual space is rising. Moreover, cross-platform gaming allows players on different devices (from phones to gaming consoles) to play against each other. These developments show how the already large gaming audience – estimated at 2.2. billion people – could grow further. The Fortnite concert, however, hints at virtual worlds expanding beyond gaming. As more daily activities could take place in virtual worlds (e.g. live entertainment, learning, commerce), new economic spaces will emerge. Developers, game publishers, platforms and device manufacturers will try to build virtual spaces that offer all kinds of activities in a single virtual world, so-called metaplatforms. In the future, these platforms might become the new tech giants.
Since 1990, cities have been promising to improve citizens’ quality of life through the implementation of smart technologies and analysis of data. Increasingly, however, sceptics criticize this focus on the implementation of state-of-the-art smart city solutions without enquiring citizens about their needs. To address these concerns, existing infrastructures and available technologies can be applied to engage citizens and request their input on smart city themes. As a supplement to real-life interaction, for instance, the City of Detroit allows citizens to leave location-based comments regarding the city’s sustainability policy on a digital map. Hello Lamp Post goes even further, allowing citizens to ‘communicate’ with street furniture by texting or calling the (pre-existing) identifier codes that label these objects. Residents and tourists can have conversations with fixed infrastructure about the object itself, the surroundings or activities in the neighborhood. These examples show that before going all out with state-of-the-art smart city solutions, policy makers and architects can use existing technologies and the physical environment to figure out how citizens could benefit optimally from smart city solutions.
As could be expected, at last week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona 5G took the spotlight as the enabler of smart applications in – among others – cities, healthcare, transport and industry 4.0. Many mobile network operators are testing the new technology, while in the U.S. and South Korea 5G networks are already operational. Global trade body GSMA forecasts that by 2021 more than 50 5G networks will be operational (see graph). However, building 5G networks is expensive: operators have to invest in new mobile frequencies and a denser network with more base stations, small cells and antennas. China Telecom said 5G is costing three times more than previous network rollouts. Given the high investment, operators are searching for ways to offset their costs through network sharing, tower company spin-offs, industry consolidation and other alternative models of network ownership. This would be a significant change in an industry known for its protectionist mindset. Nevertheless, recent comments and deals from Vodafone, Telecom Italia, Telefonica and O2 suggest that with companies progressing towards 5G, collaboration is becoming a very viable option.