South Korea’s top Telco, SK Telecom, has launched a “metaverse” virtual environment and plans to grow it from a fun place to hang online into a forum for more serious collaboration.
Known as “Ifland” and aimed at the “MZ generation” – the overlapping cohorts of millennials and Generation Z – the service offers users the chance to visit 18 different types of virtual spaces, among them conference halls, outdoor stages, and rooftops. All can hold 130 participants.
Users are promised a choice from “a wide variety of virtual avatars” customisable with “800 different virtual items including costumes, hairstyles, and so on”. Avatars can display their feelings with “66 different emotional expressions to engage in rich communication with others”. More will be added over time
The carrier has pitched Ifland as an entertainment service, with a video depicting all manner of frivolity being shared by youthful, skinny, and fashionably-clad avatars.
While the service looks frivolous, South Korea takes VR seriously enough that it recently created a Metaverse Alliance to foster the development of a national virtual and augmented reality platform and sort out the ethics of virtual environments.
SK Telecom sees entertainment as just the beginning, saying it plans to grow Ifland based on what it learns from “services like ‘Social VR’ and ‘Virtual Meet-up’”.
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SK Telecom has already said it plans to increase the number of participants that can share a virtual room “so that Ifland can flawlessly support large-scale conferences joined by hundreds of participants”. For now, serious collaboration inside Ifland is restricted to sharing PDF documents and MP4 video files.
No timeframe has been offered for the enhanced collaboration functionality.
When announcing the Metaverse Alliance, Second Vice Minister for Science and ICT Cho Kyung-sik said he hopes its work will ensure that the metaverse does not become “a space that is monopolised by a single large company”.
SK Telecom may just have made that goal a little harder to realise. ®