The metaverse, that’s a big topic of discussion right now. Chances are, no matter what industry you’re in, your organization or its competitors are preparing in some capacity for the rise of the metaverse. Preparation for the eventual implementation of the metaverse is clearly in the works. On the other hand, defining the metaverse and its impact on the semiconductor supply chain, industries, to the chips themselves, is a far more complicated question.
As of now, despite a history reaching back to the early 20th century, the metaverse is still exponentially broad. The extent of the possibilities of a true metaverse is not yet quantifiable, if only because the limitations of such a tool are so far only dampened by one’s imagination. It leaves a flurry of far-reaching opportunities for OCMs, OEMs, contract manufacturers (CMs), original design manufacturers (ODMs), and many more.
It may take some time to fully understand the benefits of a future metaverse that could deliver to industries beyond the OCMs powering it. According to experts, the metaverse will require a hefty amount of chips to power it on just a small scale, let alone the lofty expanse it will eventually rise to. Chips that, as of now, don’t exist. But when they do, as OCMs continue to push semiconductors forward, the possibilities could be limitless.
What is the Metaverse Exactly?
Asking someone to explain what the metaverse is, is a difficult task. The general public assumes that the metaverse is nothing more than Meta’s collection of related applications, including Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms that compromise Meta’s business suite. For many, “meta” has become synonymous with Meta, Facebook’s parent company. Which, of course, is the goal of Facebook’s parent company rebranding.
Zuckerberg explained in a letter that "over time, I hope we are seen as a metaverse company, and I want to anchor our work and our identity on what we're building towards." Though it’s been widely acknowledged that the theoretical metaverse that Zuckerberg refers to in his letter is years off. More importantly, the true metaverse is still far beyond Meta’s current plans of moving beyond social networking and embracing augmented and virtual reality. Even with these emerging technologies, it is still far too early to experience a “real” metaverse.
In actuality, the metaverse is extremely complex. The metaverse was first coined in 1992, by Neal Stephenson’s sci-fi novel, Snow Crash, which depicts a dystopian future where the rich escape into an alternate 3D connected reality. Would it be surprising to know that the earliest history of the metaverse dates to 1938 when French playwright Antonin Artaud used the term virtual reality in the collection of essays, The Theater and its Double? Or perhaps, even earlier, with the first forays into augmented reality?
The metaverse as we understand it today is still widely undefined as the market for its use is vast and varied, beyond imagination. The metaverse is “a vision of what many in the computer industry believe is the next iteration of the internet: a single, shared, immersive, persistent, 3D virtual space where humans experience life in ways they could not in the physical world.”
The metaverse is a digital ecosystem built on various kinds of 3D technology, real-time collaboration software, and blockchain-based decentralized finance tools. The metaverse is basically the internet, wide and full of different competing systems, such as Apple or Android, that are just in 3D for users to experience.
The metaverse, as described by Analog Devices, will be the next evolution of the internet. While steps have certainly gotten us closer to the metaverse, such as social media sites, widely popular games like Pokémon Go and Fortnite, NFTs, and widely available virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) devices, we are not there yet. The biggest reason is that successful metaverse deployment would require 1000x the computer power we do today. That is still a long way out.
According to Analog Devices, there are 4 crucial areas that need improvement for successful metaverse deployment. That is cloud computing power, network infrastructure, energy, and edge devices. According to Analog Devices, Intel, and Infineon, the rate of computing power growth today must increase 1000-fold to sustain a potential metaverse. To power it the energy consumption and emissions would be astronomical meaning solar, wind, and other green energy sources are a must in deploying a working metaverse. These would support high-density servers, AI accelerators, storage, optical control solutions, networking systems, and more to host a globally connected metaverse.
That’s only scratching the surface. Edge computing, a relatively new development created in response to the massive bandwidth growth from distributed devices, would need further support. Improved support will provide better processing and storage capabilities for the data generated by these many distributed devices.
To accomplish such feats, the chips produced in the future to support the metaverse will need to be compact, high-power, high-efficient, and smarter than their predecessors. JP Morgan and CNBC believe that chipmakers stand the most to gain from a successful metaverse, with a market value estimated in the trillions.
However, some OCMs stand to gain more than others based on the need for specific chip types to support the coming metaverse.
How Are Chipmakers Engaging with the Metaverse?
Nvidia stock soared by 125% in 2021 based on metaverse success hopes, reported CNBC’s Jim Cramer. Nvidia’s Omniverse platform is the world’s first simulation and collaboration platform that delivers the foundation of the metaverse to help utilize real-time collaboration and visualization in a workplace-like metaverse.
Partnering with Siemens, Nvidia is taking on the industrial metaverse. Defined by Thierry Klein, the president of Bell Labs Solutions Research at Nokia, “the industrial metaverse combines physical-digital fusion and human augmentation for industrial applications and contains digital representations of physical industrial environments, systems, assets and spaces that people can control, communicate, and interact with.”
Like the general metaverse, the industrial metaverse is still relatively unknown in how exactly it will unfold. But in the industrial metaverse, digital twins, or the virtual replica of a product or process, are key within its reality. As the process of utilizing a digital twin helps predict how the physical entity will perform throughout its lifecycle before creation. Digital twins for the industrial metaverse have been utilized in everything from production plants to airplane design, to even cities.
Though beyond digital twins, the best way to support the data transfer, processing, and storage generated from the industrial metaverse to consumer or enterprise metaverses, is through the implementation of 5G. Analog Devices, in their article “Metaverse: Building Blocks to the Future,” correctly asserts that while four crucial areas need improvement for successful deployment, none will support a weak data infrastructure. That the best way to support any type of metaverse implementation will be through 5G network infrastructure with low power, security, and smart algorithms.
Several industry leaders discussed the steps chipmakers would need to take to grapple with the complex demands of the metaverse. TSMC’s North American president and CEO, Dave Keller, said in a recent presentation that during the lockdown, TSMC utilized HoloLens, a type of AR technology, to work remotely with equipment vendors across the U.S. and Europe. The metaverse will take this one step further but requires “5G conductivity, cloud, and edge computing.”
Shawn Slusser, VP of sales, marketing, and distribution for Infineon in the Americas, said the metaverse requires a whole sensor IoT environment to feed into it. This ecosystem has yet to be built entirely. It will be challenging to synchronize this data while making it realistic, and these technologies must emerge. This huge number of semiconductors required for a project of this size will likely be highly customized.
It’s not about waiting for 5nm or 3nm processors, the biggest players, according to Semiengineering’s article “Chip Challenges in the Metaverse”, are “designing their own chips to prioritize the flow of data, using heterogeneous architectures that incorporate some form of AI, much faster I/O, as well as some advanced-node compute elements.” The fact that the metaverse is an evolutionary concept, not a strictly defined process or product, means that innovation within this area is unlimited and broad. We are not even at the edge of a true metaverse yet.
Though Hezi Saar, senior director of product marketing at Synopsys, has an idea where most innovation for metaverse progress will be centered in. “You’ll need cameras to see the environment for you, connectivity to an XR processor, and connectivity to display drivers, as well.” Saar continued “the XR accelerator that connects the external world…this is a heavy XR-accelerated SoC, and for that, we do see designs coming in…but we do see the market moving ahead.”
Saar predicts that most metaverse-related semiconductors will be used in smart eyewear devices, that are an extension of a smartphone. That the tandem nature will resolve some of the metaverse device technical challenges resulting in a “lightweight metaverse” as described by Saar.
Despite the concerns about the computing power necessary to achieve a true metaverse, many chipmakers, even Intel and Infineon, acknowledge the infeasibility of a 1000x greater computing power, and many are forging ahead.
While DRAM and NAND are in a cyclical downturn due to inflationary costs and the pandemic, the storage needed for metaverse-capable servers will be relatively massive. Micron Technology is working on positioning itself as the go-to for memory in future metaverse endeavors. Nvidia and TSMC are both eagerly embarking on their metaverse space positioning, with TSMC selling more products and Nvidia setting the pricing.
Meanwhile, Molex, like Nvidia, is taking its engineering expertise into the industrial metaverse, hoping to streamline product development through commercialization and finally fulfillment. According to Mike Giresi, CDO of Molex, “modernizing IoT infrastructure to take full advantage of the metaverse is a strategic business imperative that will result in deeper, more productive customer experiences and richer data insights today and well into the future.”
Where You to Kickstart Your Metaverse Journey
Where innovative chip design will take us in the future as we step closer to a true metaverse we don’t know. What we do know is that these endeavors will result in unimaginable processors, memory storage, and other chips with capabilities that boost high efficiency without losing quality. When these new chips are created their uses beyond metaverse support will aid in a wide berth of applications for dozens of industries.
To build a resilient supply chain, you need to source your components from a global distributor with a team of experts ready to source hard-to-find components. One that can provide support for franchised lines with end-to-end support when necessary. Sourcengine is a global marketplace with a team of industry veterans ready to help you find the right component for any future metaverse products you embark on.
With over 1 billion parts and 3,500 suppliers with an integrated BOM management tool that lets you upload up to 4000 line items for a quick search and add, any metaverse project can be efficiently handled with Sourcengine. If you can’t find the needed part, Sourcengine’s team can help source it when you submit an RFQ. And if you wind up with excess inventory, you can sell it straight away with Sourcengine’s sell your excess feature.