Verizon 5G Labs Director on Predicting When Emerging Technologies Go from Buzz to Business Impact

By Meghan Hall, Scott Kirsner |  November 4, 2022

Two of the biggest buzzwords of 2022 have been Web3 and the metaverse.

But how do you know when — and if — new technologies will evolve from buzzy trends into something that will have real business impact? According to Christian Guirnalda of Verizon, it can be impossible to time when that will happen. But, he says, setting up experiments to learn about emerging technologies can “help you determine not when the thing hits, but when it’s impactful for your business.”

As part of a recent research report, we spoke with Guirnalda, the Director of 5G Labs and Innovation Centers at Verizon. He shared examples of recent experiments that Verizon has run, and predicted that we may not see a single unified metaverse emerge, as was represented in the book and movie “Ready Player One.”

Christian Guirnalda, Director of 5G Labs and Innovation Centers, Verizon

Highlights from our conversation are below.

• • •

Not everything will be ‘on the chain.’ We think [Web3] is really a coming together of a lot of these technology domains. I don’t think everything needs to run on the chain…[but what’s taking shape is] a new type of system that includes the support for truly immersive content on one end, and the decentralized nature of how those pieces of content can interact with people, locations, and devices. It’s going to be interactive and participatory and contributory. Call that the metaverse, call that Web3, [but the key question to ask is], where do we have ways to solve customer problems, monetize, and grow profitably as a business — versus trying to perfectly define what the metaverse is and what Web3 is. [For Verizon], we can do virtual reality training, or we can use augmented reality to help consumers install their router. 

We think [Web3] is really a coming together of a lot of these technology domains. I don’t think everything needs to run on the chain.

An NFT experiment. Players from our esports team, Dignitas, did a social campaign. During E3 [an annual video game expo], we announced we were going to do an NFT drop. You got an NFT if you were hashtagging “#dignatures.” We gave it to 50 or so fans, and the fans joined a BlueJeans video conference where the [esports] player was on the other end. It was just like getting a baseball player to sign a program. The fans chatted with the players, and the signatures were appended to a hologram that we minted as an NFT. That was an experience and a digital asset that makes them feel like part of the team. 

This interview is part of our recent research report, “Shaping Your Strategy for Web3 and the Metaverse,” sponsored by KPMG LLP.

Testing out different metaverse platforms. As an innovation team, we used to have to bring folks into the 5G Labs. When the pandemic hit, we built our own virtual lab and started to have engagement there. Constraint is the mother of innovation. We had to make a virtual space, which also taught us about the differences in different options for virtual worlds and metaverses — about the constraints and communities and feature sets that differed, based on community and comfort and business model. 

It’s different to do a meetup in Spatial, versus AltspaceVR, versus Rec Room. That gave us some pretty deep insight into how we need to look at this being not a unified “Ready Player One” [virtual world], but an interconnected set of communities that have different needs, and the operators [of the worlds] having different business models.

Constraint is the mother of innovation.

Gaming the ‘when’ question. Web3 and the metaverse will be another set of words five years from now. Your strategic approach should enable you to test and learn how emerging technologies will impact your business. If you’re just getting into corporate innovation, you might not have been around for as many cycles and buzzwords as some of us war-tattered vets have been. Start with what your business needs to defend or contribute to these two areas. 

I was talking recently with Rus Gant [a futurist who runs the Visualization Research Lab at Harvard]. He told me, ‘We’re always pretty spot on with the technology. The question has always been the when.’ The when can only be predicted if you as a company are experimenting in a way [where] you can get a little bit higher fidelity on that time frame. Things will become more clear over time, but having a scientific and thoughtful approach to gathering the right data, and making decisions on whether to dive in or not, will help you determine not when the thing hits, but when it’s impactful for your business.