CES 2023: How 5G Will Bring the Metaverse and Future Commerce Into Focus

Lisa Johnston
Lisa Johnston profile picture
5G will fuel business into the next phase of automation.

Expect humans to become the “nice to have” component of the work equation as the next wave of technological change — the one that will remedy inflation and restore global GDP growth — is delivered from the enterprise side of business. 

That’s according to Steve Koenig, VP of research of the Consumer Technology Association, who confirmed a future of work heavily supported by cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and automation, as the metaverse comes into focus and commerce moves more heavily into vehicles.  

“Twenty years ago, technology was the nice-to-have when it comes to business or the commercial enterprise. Today humans are the nice-to-have,” he said at a tech trends presentation prior to the onset of CES 2023. 

“The simple truth is, we can’t hire enough workers if we’re talking about skilled labor and knowledge workers. … Across the global economy, across every economic sector, businesses are struggling to find workers.” 

Much of this innovation will be predicated upon the progression of 5G, which he cited as the first wireless generation to be led by enterprise innovation.

“5G means faster mobile broadband for consumers,” he said. “But for commercial industrial IoT applications, it's really the greater capacity and ultra-low latency that is going to unlock so much innovation, and we're going to see that across this decade.” 

As a result, expect business to move beyond digital transformation into a new phase of automation and virtualization, with progressively more industrial IoT applications across the economy, including fully automated and smart factories, farms, and hospitals. 

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Digital Chassis, first previewed last year, is an example of the potential for cars to become more immersive commerce environments.

When it comes to the future of work, much as Microsoft Office is the toolkit of the modern knowledge worker, cloud, AI, robotics, and cybersecurity will evolve to become the new digital utilities — “the new toolkit for the modern enterprise.”  

Koenig cited automation provider Ocado, currently leveraged by retailers like Kroger, as an example of how this will impact logistics and automation, predicting growth of human-machine partnerships manifesting in the commercial enterprise. This will be particularly evident within warehouses, with humans working alongside robots and using robotic assist devices to increase safety and mitigate risk. 

“The sum of speed and safety really is savings — or, put another way, profitability — certainly for a lot of publicly traded companies and so forth that want to increase shareholder equity,” said Keonig.  

For food manufacturers, this will impact agriculture technology through more automated farms leveraging sensors in their soil, drones conducting spectrographic analysis, and intelligent connected silos using predictive analytics to estimate grain levels — all collecting data in accessible ways for farmers to make purchase and operations decisions. 

Metaverse of Things

The 5G Advanced protocol will not only unlock capabilities for commercial enterprise capacity, data-throughput bandwidth, and ultra-low latency applications, but also protocols dedicated to XR applications, “which points to advancing opportunities and capabilities and experiences in the metaverse,” said Koenig.  

Acknowledging the skepticism, marketing spin, and definition problems surrounding the metaverse, Koenig nonetheless persisted that “the metaverse is closer than you think,” with this year expected to bring legitimate substance around the environment, particularly as gaming becomes more central to consumer socialization.  

“Metaverse is still a speculative term,” he conceded. “But make no mistake, this is a real trend, just as the internet was a real trend in the early 1990s.” 

Listen: Why We Should Stop Calling Everything the Metaverse

And so rather than likening the metaverse to “Ready Player One,” it’s more accurate to view it as the next generation of the Internet. For consumer goods companies and retailers, this means considering how it can elevate consumer shopping experiences, whether through virtualized 3D spaces accessed via a computer or immersive ones accessed via VR headsets. 

Until more consumers gain access to VR headsets, these immersive experiences will once again be driven by the enterprise, including through digital twins.   

In other commerce evolutions, expect displays to take over vehicle dashboards, with the vehicle cabin serving as the convergence of entertainment and commerce thanks to the layering of 5G, vehicle wireless information exchange, and voice control. 

“Cars are becoming marketplaces and not just for the passengers but also the driver,” Koenig said, noting that drivers can order a Starbucks from their car and have it waiting for them when they arrive. 

Also expected to alleviate labor challenges and propel retail: self-driving trucks. Koenig cited statistics from the American Trucking Association that predicted a shortage of 160,000 truck drivers in the U.S. by 2030. 

“We're delivering a lot of stuff online — we'll probably do even more in the metaverse — and so all this has got to get delivered somehow.” 

More on Automation