Reimagining the internet

Africa’s Biggest Telecom Operator Kickstarts Local Metaverse Marathon

By  |  March 7, 2022

In an era persistently ridden by the outgoing and incoming outcomes of the coronavirus pandemic, lifestyles have had to change for the better. The full-scale adoption of digital channels enabled this necessary shift, brought more people online, and created a whole new world wherein tech beats almost anything else. 

The race to foster a more digitally connected world has accelerated the emergence of innovative solutions meant to enable just about everyone to thrive without necessarily having to move an inch. Along these lines, a virtual reality or “online universe” has seen the light of day, leading up to the advent of the metaverse. 

A metaphysical universe?

Internationally, the metaverse is having quite the moment, especially for economies that were substantially tech-forward prior to the outbreak of the novel endemic. 

Disrupting and changing business models in their wake, concepts such as blockchain, cryptocoins, and NFTs started to pump up the demand for “the other world”. Through an online reality where users can interact and transact, the metaverse is the portal to the huge and promising ecosystem fundamentally designed to enhance customer experience. 

According to current projections for the addressable market, the metaverse would be worth USD 800 B in the next two years. Multinational investment bank JPMorgan Chase has reported that there is currently a spend of USD 54 B for virtual goods on a yearly basis—which is nearly twice the annual amount the world spends on music. The bank predicts that the metaverse will evolve into a trillion-dollar revenue market over the next few years. 

The metaverse is part of the Web 3.0 internet iteration, the one with the main promise of allowing people to work, play, socialize, shop, and even go on vacations without having to leave the comfort of their homes. Like the physical world, the metaverse is a vast piece of digital real estate where companies and common people can set up shop or take up residence.

Earlier this year, Facebook [as it was previously called] rebranded to Meta, a moniker fashioned to help the American multinational tech giant achieve its ambitions of building the world’s next big digital frontier. Another tech giant, Microsoft, says the metaverse is the reason behind its landmark acquisition of Activision Blizzard for a whopping USD 68.7 B, a deal that is, however, still in the making. 

While the metaverse saga grips solidly well-developed markets elsewhere, the Web 3.0 concept is enabling Africa to catch on, looking to make up for lost time on the first two iterations of the internet. Thanks to the heavy adoption of crypto and the serious noise around video gaming, the metaverse isn’t going to skip the African continent. 

Welcome to Ubuntuland

What many have called Africa’s very own piece of the metaverse real estate has been launched in South Africa—the continent’s most industrialized economy—less than a week ago. 

Set in [virtual] vast land dubbed Ubuntuland by Africarare, the region’s first metaverse marketplace, the project proportionately amalgamates the tenets of commerce, cryptocurrency, and creativity. A typical South African establishment, Africarare, was launched back in October 2021. 

The currency issued for Ubuntuland is the $UBUNTU token, built on the Ethereum blockchain and due to be rolled out later this year. Everything in the space can be bought, sold, or traded using this token, including the purchase, sale, or rental of Ubuntu’s digital plots of land. $UBUNTU can also be used to buy the reality’s digital goods and services, and its valuation is entirely contingent on what is invested, built, played, or traded in this “African reality.”

First buyer on the block? South Africa’s MTN, the largest telecoms operator in not only its home market but also across most of Sub-Saharan Africa. 

A few days ago, the telco, which operates in no less than 21 African economies, loosened its purse strings to purchase itself a piece of the so-called Ubuntuland. As one of the first African companies to take up a parchment of metaverse property, MTN is generally looking to reinvent itself into an internet company; acquiring metaverse land is but another step in the process.

“MTN’s commitment to supporting African innovation as it is the first company on the continent to support an initiative of this kind. Through its presence in the metaverse, MTN intends to increase its customer attractiveness through a series of experiences merged with consumer passion points, like gaming and music,” the group submitted in a statement. 

Though the value of the deal was not revealed, MTN divulged that 144 plots of virtual real estate in Ubuntuland, an overall 12 by 12m space, is now under its ownership. The acquisition falls in line with MTN’s Ambition 2025, which is premised on leveraging trends capable of increasing the digital experiences and engagements levels of consumers.

Elsewhere, Nigeria’s Thrill Digital—which once received a USD 40 K grant from Epic Games—leverages virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), crypto, and gaming to create a metaverse specifically designed for the fashion industry. According to Morgan Stanley, by 2030, the virtual fashion market would be worth USD 55 B. 

Meanwhile, as part of its ambitions to build the metaverse, Meta (nee Facebook) has set aside USD 50 M, a part of which will go into its program, Future Africa: Telling Stories, Building Words—an initiative wherein it is partnering with Africa No Filter, Electric South, and Imisi3D. The play? Bolstering content creators and turning things up for African voices through storytelling. 

Image Courtesy: Tech Radar

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