Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles The tech industry loves a buzzword. And right now, everyone's talking about the metaverse. Broadly speaking, the metaverse can be defined as a virtual world where we can live, work, travel and play. But it doesn't actually exist yet, and just like Gaudi's cathedral, the Sagrada Familia, it may take a while to complete. But that hasn't stopped businesses of all shapes and sizes from trying to get involved. J.P. Morgan, HSBC, Gucci and Coca-Cola are among a few of the firms that have dabbled with the metaverse so far. And of course, there's Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook. While the metaverse is still mostly science fiction at this stage, there are some early versions of it out there that give us a taste of what might be possible. Here at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, many of them are on display. Let's take a look. Many in the tech industry claim that the metaverse is the next phase of the internet. Companies like Meta are hailing it as this sort of utopia that will make the time we spend online more interactive and fun. They also say it will present businesses with new ways to make money. A lot of money. One report estimates that the metaverse economy could be worth between $8 and 13 trillion by 2030, but getting there is going to require significant investment. The metaverse, we think, is something that has already been with us. It's in essence, the digital world, with things like our smartphones, the web, gaming. We've always been in the metaverse. It's not something that's going to turn on in a single day. We're looking at how to make those things more immersive, how to make those things more accessible. How do we make those things better for humanity, and how do we make those things safer as well? Alongside the hype have been a whole host of concerns, ranging from child safety to scams, which is why regulators will no doubt be keeping an eye on how the technology progresses. But the companies here in Barcelona have placed their bets on the metaverse's promise, with a wide range of demos on display. From SK Telecom's “4D Metaverse” ride to an augmented reality demo from Qualcomm that allowed you to swat virtual insects. It was actually kind of fun. One tech firm called Unity is trying to put sports fans in the middle of the action. But what else is their software being used to create? Sometimes it can be like an amazing magical fantasy world where people ride unicorns and are dancing on the moon or it can be something really ordinary like you want a 3D representation of what a new building is going to look like. What we'll see is all of these different companies will be creating their own subsets of that in the same way that the internet is the internet, but there are many, many different websites for you to go to. But are these demonstrations just gimmicks, or are they a sign of things to come? The challenge with the metaverse is it's a very nebulous term. So, we've got Mark Zuckerberg's Meta vision of almost like an arcade game that you insert yourself into and then we've got the more grounded version of virtual and augmented reality, which might augment your life in a very simple way. No company has been more active and more vocal about the metaverse than Facebook, which changed its name to Meta at the end of 2021 to reflect its “all in” attitude. We're at the beginning of a long journey. Meta had to do something that was a statement to grab people's attention. And if you look at the huge amounts of money that they're investing, they had to justify that investment. My personal belief is we've already had an interesting step in the right direction with the pandemic because we're starting to live more blended lives. We're working from home. We're coming back to the office. Some of that will continue to exist and there will be elements of that that will lend themselves to a metaverse-like experience. Tech companies are pumping billions of dollars into developing hardware that has the potential to act as a gateway to these metaverses. Facebook bought virtual reality firm Oculus back in 2014 and the company's latest VR headset is the Quest 2, which competes with the HTC Vive Pro, and, to some degree, Microsoft's HoloLens 2. At $299, the Quest 2 is a moderately priced headset that may offer a glimpse of the future. If you don't mind looking like a bit of a numpty, you can play some highly interactive games on it and explore worlds that you wouldn't otherwise be able to. While the headsets are being enjoyed by many, there have been early hiccups with some applications. VRChat, an app that allows you to create an avatar and explore virtual worlds with other people online, is full of people hurling abuse at one another. VRChat was not available for comment when contacted by CNBC. There are a number of computer games and web-based platforms that offer an insight into what the metaverse is all about. Think of Roblox and Minecraft. These are all virtual worlds where you can interact with other players. Decentraland is another desktop-based virtual world that users can create, explore and trade in. The platform's users effectively “own” Decentraland as they're the ones that have built it. On Decentraland, people can buy and sell land, estates, and wearables for their avatar. In the last year there's been a huge amount of momentum and progress. If you look at the signals out there, we're seeing significant amounts of money being invested by venture capital. I think we're seeing devices like the Quest at very attractive price points that enables them to become mainstream. So VR is now attainable and accessible to people. And we're beginning to see the developer community build out experiences and gaming really go mainstream. But is this something that people actually want? I remain to be convinced that I'm going to be putting on a headset at the beginning of the day and sitting in the metaverse all day. It will be something that you perhaps snack on, use for certain applications. Use at certain points when it's appropriate. When we think about time spent online and screen time average U.K. and U.S. adults are spending more than 12 hours a day. So it's more than half of every day on a screen. And that's been accelerated by Covid and how we've all lived over the last 12 months. So I think that's set the scene for the type of technology that we're going to see.