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Accenture aims for the metaverse

Accenture’s Brian Smyth and Jefferson Wang spoke to at MWC 2022 about the company’s latest developments in metaverse and Open RAN technology.

“There’s going to be a lot more momentum around metaverse in the coming months.”

That’s according to Brian Smyth, Accenture’s innovation lead for the communications and media industry, who I spoke to at this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona.

MWC is an influential event attended by global mobile operators, device manufacturers, technology providers and vendors. While the latest telecoms developments in areas such as 5G took centre stage, a lot of the discussion at the event of 61,000 attendees also focused on the metaverse – an online world of augmented and virtual reality.

The concept of the metaverse has been growing in popularity since Facebook changed its name to Meta last October and bet its future on developments in AI, AR and VR. Last November, a report by EmergenResearch said the market value for the metaverse was more than $47bn in 2020 and is expected to be worth nearly $829bn by 2028.

Accenture’s own research found that in 2021, businesses were doubling down on virtual and augmented reality, with 88pc of global organisations saying they had invested in technologies to create virtual environments. Nearly all (91pc) of those organisations said they are planning to invest further.

Accenture has taken its own step into the metaverse, creating a digital location called the Nth Floor where employees from around the world can meet for presentations, socialise and participate in immersive training. The company is in the process of deploying 60,000 VR headsets to its staff in multiple countries.

‘Even as things open up more, we have team meetings and events in these virtual worlds’

Smyth said this development was heightened by a desire to have employees connect with each other and the company during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This is a new space where our new joiners can connect and collaborate and get a sense of place of Accenture and a sense of our culture, in a way that they couldn’t get when they couldn’t come to the office,” he explained. “So historically, people used to meet in offices, in our training centres. When that was not possible, this was a really great way to bring people together.

“And we’re continuing to work in this space. So even as things open up more, we have team meetings and events in these virtual worlds. And it enables people to have this sense of presence and a sense of team that you don’t always get in a 2D screen,” he added.

Smyth said Accenture has seen benefits from using this technology among its staff, such as a greater feeling of connection and a “sense of occasion” when a large group of employees are brought together this way.

“I think it’s incredibly important, particularly as a global organisation, to be able to do that. And by bringing in new technology and new ways of working, it’s really beneficial for us. And more importantly then, how we bring that to our clients in new ways.”

The future of metaverse

Smyth said Accenture is seeing huge demand for metaverse technology among its clients across multiple industries.

“We’re helping travel companies reinvent the travel experience. We’re doing immersive learning and worker safety training for utilities companies. We’re building out online retail experiences for fashion brands, on platforms like Roblox and Decentraland.”

One collaboration Accenture is working on is with Touchcast, a company developing ‘metaverse-as-a-service’. Last January it launched MCity, which it described as the “world’s first enterprise metaverse”, where companies can register their own metaverse domain name and set up a virtual campus.

“It’s really around building these engaging experiences that look like professional conference presentations, but can be done from your home office using your camera,” Smyth explained. “So we’ve used it before for the launch of our Tech Vision, which is our annual report on what’s happening in tech and future trends.

“What it enables you to do is create this experience that looks like an amphitheatre, or looks like a conference hall or an event. And you have giant screens and you have a podium and a speaker, but the speaker is actually just on their webcam at home.

“But it recreates it into a 3D world. And then you pan and zoom cameras across and you can see attendees, so it really gives this sense of occasion on an event,” he said.

This technology could make investor events and conferences “really compelling”, Smyth noted, but there are other applications down the line such as being able to create a virtual retail experience, where users can get a more tangible feel of what a product looks and feels like before they make a purchase online.

For metaverse developments in the future, Smyth pointed to the importance of being able to have both people on VR devices and those using devices like their mobile phone or laptop. One example he shared was Microsoft’s plans to incorporate mixed-reality technology into its Microsoft Teams.

Microsoft first revealed Mesh last year, a virtual platform to help people feel like they are in the same room as each other. Last November, the company shared its plans to integrate this technology into Teams for 2022, where users will be able to represent themselves in a meeting using customised 2D and 3D avatars, or continue to show themselves in a video format.

Smyth said that Accenture sees the metaverse as the “next evolution of the internet”, focusing on immersive experiences. With the company’s own ventures with metaverse technology and its collaborations with industry partners, Smyth seems confident about the future of this concept.

“There’s going to be a lot more momentum around metaverse in the coming months,” Smyth said. “Certainly from Accenture in terms of how we go to market.”

Open RAN

Another topic that is growing in popularity is around open radio access networks, or Open RAN. This differs from traditional radio access networks by allowing different parts of the network’s infrastructure to be built by different vendors, and allows service providers to speed up 5G network development through the use of open architecture.

Accenture has described Open RAN is one of the most “hotly debated topics in the industry” currently. An industry survey by last November found that almost half of respondents have already deployed Open RAN or plan to do so soon. Last year, Vodafone and Dell Technologies announced a partnership to build the first Open RAN in Europe.

Jefferson Wang, Accenture’s cloud-first networks and 5G lead, said Open RAN is accelerating in certain regions like Europe faster than others, which he believes is for three key reasons.

“One is the ability to try and look for a lower way to actually drive the cost down,” Wang said. “The second is also dependent upon the geopolitical situation, the need to replace other equipment providers is another reason why. And then the third one is to try and create more of that competitive landscape so that you could actually generate more innovation on a quicker level.

“So Open RAN, I think, in the end is one of those things where you’ll start to see it come out in waves, with Europe absolutely taking the lead, but then Latin America is picking up and you’ll see other geographies around Open RAN,” he added.

‘Open RAN is one of those things where you’ll start to see it come out in waves, with Europe absolutely taking the lead’

Wang said Accenture is working to help new operators that have an interest in Open RAN, while also figuring out how to work with legacy networks. “We formed a new group called Accenture Cloud First Networks,” he explained. “The entire goal of that is to help situations like this, where there’s a new technology that comes out for those reasons that we talked about.

The disaggregation of hardware and software can create a lot of choice, which is good in terms of competition. “The downside is there’s more disaggregation,” Wang noted. While competition is positive for lowering prices, he said there are also benefits for a more tightly integrated hardware and software network, such as the ability to better optimise the power network for energy management.

“So I think that while you’ll see new feature development accelerate in certain areas, in terms of the radio or other parts of the network, there has to be somebody also focused on when you glue these disparate pieces together that have been disaggregated, who’s working on those pieces around power management, around efficiency and those things.

“A group of companies needs to work very closely on that to make sure that we’re not increasing our power consumption at a data centre somewhere else because of these disaggregated pieces,” Wang said.

Overall, he believes Open RAN is going to be successful in certain areas “and is needed”. But change is going to come in phases.

“I think in geographies that are basically still slow to adopt, you might see Open RAN show up in things like a private wireless scenario, something that isn’t touching the macro network with millions and millions of consumers, but more so these more targeted, more surgical deployments where they’re actually trying it, testing, iterating it and then actually working it into the broader network.”

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Top 10 Florida Cities Dominate The Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

Top 10 Florida Cities And Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

The Voice Of EU | Florida emerges as a hub for entrepreneurial endeavors, with its vibrant business landscape and conducive environment for startups. Renowned for its low corporate tax rates and a high concentration of investors, the Sunshine State beckons aspiring entrepreneurs seeking fertile grounds to launch and grow their businesses.

In a recent report by WalletHub, Florida cities dominate the list of the top 10 best destinations for business startups, showcasing their resilience and economic vitality amidst challenging times.

From Orlando’s thriving market to Miami’s dynamic ecosystem, each city offers unique advantages and opportunities for entrepreneurial success. Let’s delve into the chronologically listed cities that exemplify Florida’s prominence in the business startup arena.

1. Orlando Leads the Way: Orlando emerges as the most attractive market in the U.S. for business startups, with a remarkable surge in small business establishments. WalletHub’s latest report highlights Orlando’s robust ecosystem, fostering the survival and growth of startups, buoyed by a high concentration of investors per capita.

2. Tampa Takes Second Place: Securing the second spot among large cities for business startups, Tampa boasts a favorable business environment attributed to its low corporate tax rates. The city’s ample investor presence further fortifies startups, providing essential resources for navigating the initial years of business operations.

3. Charlotte’s Diverse Industries: Claiming the third position, Charlotte stands out for its diverse industrial landscape and exceptionally low corporate taxes, enticing companies to reinvest capital. This conducive environment propels entrepreneurial endeavors, contributing to sustained economic growth.

4. Jacksonville’s Rising Profile: Jacksonville emerges as a promising destination for startups, bolstered by its favorable business climate. The city’s strategic positioning fosters entrepreneurial ventures, attracting aspiring business owners seeking growth opportunities.

5. Miami’s Entrepreneurial Hub: Miami solidifies its position as a thriving entrepreneurial hub, attracting businesses with its dynamic ecosystem and strategic location. The city’s vibrant startup culture and supportive infrastructure make it an appealing destination for ventures of all sizes.

6. Atlanta’s Economic Momentum: Atlanta’s ascent in the business startup landscape underscores its economic momentum and favorable business conditions. The city’s strategic advantages and conducive policies provide a fertile ground for entrepreneurial ventures to flourish.

7. Fort Worth’s Business-Friendly Environment: Fort Worth emerges as a prime destination for startups, offering a business-friendly environment characterized by low corporate taxes. The city’s supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives facilitate the growth and success of new ventures.

8. Austin’s Innovation Hub: Austin cements its status as an innovation hub, attracting startups with its vibrant entrepreneurial community and progressive policies. The city’s robust infrastructure and access to capital foster a conducive environment for business growth and innovation.

9. Durham’s Emerging Entrepreneurship Scene: Durham’s burgeoning entrepreneurship scene positions it as a promising destination for startups, fueled by its supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives. The city’s collaborative culture and access to resources contribute to the success of new ventures.

10. St. Petersburg’s Thriving Business Community: St. Petersburg rounds off the top 10 with its thriving business community and supportive ecosystem for startups. The city’s strategic advantages and favorable business climate make it an attractive destination for entrepreneurial endeavors.

Despite unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Great Resignation, and high inflation, these top Florida cities remain resilient and well-equipped to overcome obstacles, offering promising opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs alike.

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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.

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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.

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