OBSCURE

Meta wants to bring the metaverse to Africans through their cell phones

Meta is taking the metaverse to the world's youngest population but admits it has no plans to reduce the cost of VR headsets
Ready for the metaverse?
Ready for the metaverse?
Photo: TEMILADE ADELAJA (Reuters)
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Meta sees a huge metaverse business potential in Africa$40 billion added to the continent’s GDP by 2031. This ambitious goal has one major caveat, “only if the metaverse were to be adopted and grow in a similar way as mobile technology.”

But the continent is grappling with challenges that if not addressed mean it will be the last to plug into the company’s immersive tech and not in the grand way that Meta hopes it will.

In an attempt to ensure it grows at the same rate as mobile innovation, Meta plans to offer the metaverse through smartphone apps. Yet many African users struggle to understand what the metaverse means to them while a huge portion of the population is yet to own a smartphone.

The cost of mobile internet is highest in Africa while internet speed in the continent is still the slowest in the world. Meta hopes its 2Africa sub-marine internet cable will help reduce internet costs in Africa, but that may not happen any time soon.

The cost of Meta’s VR headsets ($400) is too high for an average African family. Meta is spending $50 million in 16 African countries to educate users on VR, AR, and XR but its CEO Mark Zuckerberg is facing resistance from his own employees, who believe his metaverse obsession will kill the company. The Metaverse has also been tainted by intellectual property infringements, fraud, cybersecurity threats, and impersonation.

It is such drawbacks that make techies in Africa lack enthusiasm in the metaverse. Many don’t see it solving a real problem.

To help understand the company’s entire plan for Africa, Quartz spoke to Derya Matras, Meta’s vice president, Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

What does the metaverse mean for Africa?

Africa is important to Meta, we continue to invest across the region, and we remain committed to building technologies that help people connect with friends and family, and grow businesses. There is immense talent across the continent, and nowhere is it more exciting to witness this than in the creative and tech space with local solutions being created for global problems and challenges.

The mobile internet has already allowed people in Africa to work, learn, and socialize in ways that are less limited by their physical location. The metaverse is going to take that even further. Our hope is that within the next decade, the metaverse will host hundreds of billions of dollars of digital commerce, change the way we work and support jobs for millions of creators and developers.

The potential societal benefits for Africa—particularly in education and healthcare—are vast, from helping medical students to practice surgical techniques to bringing school lessons to life in exciting new ways.

Imagine how it can help aspiring surgeons - letting them learn specialized surgical techniques through VR before they ever operate on a real patient.

Imagine how it can help students - learning about a place or time by standing on the streets, hearing the sounds, visiting the markets of places far away from where you live or you could even travel to or learn how historical cities and buildings were built by actually seeing them get built, right in front of you.

What opportunities can African creatives find in the metaverse?

Metaverse will be built by a range of companies large and small, civil society, the public sector, and millions of individual creators. We are already seeing organizations and talented individuals contributing to the development of the metaverse in Africa.

VR and AR companies in Africa like Black Rhino and Imisi 3D have created immersive media content ranging from education, environmental conservations to gaming and entertainment. We are committed to equip the XR ecosystem in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) with skills and resources needed to develop for the metaverse, and showcase the future value of the metaverse.

We recently hosted a #Flexnaija event in Lagos, which brought together music, fashion, art, and comedy content creators to “Flex Naija’’, a first-of-its-kind mixed reality event showcasing their creativity and imagination which we believe will be key to unlocking the full potential of the metaverse.

Seeing this potential, we are exploring a wide range of technologies we believe will expand access, reduce costs, and accelerate innovation to empower people and creators around the world. From art and virtual avatars to GIFs, videos, and even memes, NFTs—i.e., non-fungible tokens—that will make it easier for creators to share their one-of-a-kind work with their audiences and communities.

How is Meta dealing with low public opinion on the metaverse, and how is it going to curb fraud, impersonation, and infringement of IP rights in the metaverse?

Making the metaverse safe is crucial to making it a success. Our vision is to have as many people as one billion accessing the metaverse as part of their daily lives within 10 years. This will rely on people being in control of their experiences and feeling safe and secure.

Our approach will be guided by four core values:

  • Privacy, through building meaningful transparency and control into our products.
  • Safety and security in keeping people safe on our platforms, and giving them tools to take action or get help if they see or experience something they aren’t comfortable with.
  • Economic opportunity by giving people choice, and maintaining a thriving digital economy.
  • Equity and Inclusion in ensuring these technologies are designed inclusively and in a way that can benefit the most people.

The metaverse is at a critical early stage in its development. There is nothing deterministic in the way technology impacts society. Technology isn’t good or bad in and of itself. People will use it as they see fit, but we can build thoughtful rules and guardrails into place as it develops to maximize its potential for good and minimize the potential harms.

We know technology doesn’t stand still. The future of social technology is changing, and so are we. It won’t happen overnight, this is a journey of more than a decade, but over time, the metaverse will unlock new opportunities for young people and communities globally and across Africa.

Any plans to cut the cost of accessing the metaverse in Africa - internet and VR gear?

Internet affordability is a challenge across the continent, and something we’re very much aware of, and we continue to work in this area. We believe connecting people can help to improve lives and economies. Investing in submarine cables brings more people online to a faster internet.

We have seen first-hand the positive impact that increased connectivity has on communities, from education to healthcare. We know that economies flourish when there is widely accessible internet for businesses. 2Africa is a perfect example of our innovative partnership model where everyone benefits through developing scale infrastructure and shared technology expertise that leads the industry in routes, capacity, and flexibility.

Anything that is dependent on hardware comes with a cost, and anything that comes with a cost will make it harder, even prohibitive, for some people to own. Despite making our headsets as affordable as possible, the costs of buying VR headsets or future AR glasses will be unavoidable. That’s why we are building metaverse in a way that means there will be many entry points—including through mobile phones and the apps people use today.

In the next decade, what impact do you believe the metaverse will have made in Africa?

Africa can and will play an integral role in the metaverse, creating new ways for African brands to tell unique stories, e-sports, culture, and new immersive experiences to consumers. This reality is no longer a fantasy, as by 2035 the population of Africa is predicted to become the largest workforce in the world.

Digitization is taking center stage across the continent and is changing the way we do business, create jobs, meet with friends and family and access public services. The booming startup ecosystem in Africa has been a prime example of this budding development, which has driven a wave of innovation across the continent.

This startup ecosystem continues to strengthen digital communities and signals the potential of Africa for the metaverse, the next chapter of the internet.