Why Dubai promises to be the hub of the metaverse

Web 3.0 is here - and it's opening up exciting prospects of extended reality that could rake in billions of dollars for the emirate


Sandhya D'Mello

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Published: Fri 29 Apr 2022, 9:01 PM

Last updated: Fri 17 Jun 2022, 5:50 PM

Imagine taking a stroll with your loved ones - perhaps even shopping along the way. All of it, however, is done virtually with an avatar that is life-like. This is the new reality.

Humanity is making rapid strides on the web, which is constantly evolving – the experiences transforming from the mundane to the exciting. And right now, metaverse fever is at the centre of it all.

Dubai-based A-lister companies such as Emirates, Damac and several others are already betting big on the space. Many more are expected to join the pack. The emirate has spelt out its virtual ambitions and wants to become the major metaverse hub of the region and the world. In fact, the city is already laying the foundations for the next phase of humanity's virtual future with extended reality (XR).

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) developed a new metaverse platform, allowing people virtual access to medical care. Last month, Dubai World Trade Centre launched MetaIncubator, the first metaverse incubator in the Middle East. Over in the private sector, startup Eikonikos recently raised $2 million in pre-seed funding. Action in this space heating up.

So, what is the metaverse and how does it work?

Simply put, the metaverse creates a new environment where users are virtually connected with family, friends, pets, favourite items and experiences. It transports them to the next generation of social interactions.

To understand the metaverse, it's important to start with Web 1.0 in the late nineties and early 2000s that boomed and went bust with dotcoms. Then came Web 2.0 riding on social media and myriad apps. The metaverse is the latest iteration of the World Wide Web as we know it. We will call it Web 3.0 and it's quickly gaining traction among people and businesses in the UAE.


A meeting of two worlds

Dubai has announced plans to work with private sector companies and investors to create a futuristic, human-centred version of the city that capitalises on opportunities thrown up by the metaverse.

Dawood Abdul Rahman Al Hajri, Director-General, Dubai Municipality, spoke of the One Human Reality concept that will soon come to fruition. “One Human Reality is the meeting point or integration between two worlds: the metaverse and the world we are currently living in together,” Al Hajri said.

In this virtual reality space, users will interact with computer-generated environments and other people. The user-friendly concept combines elements of social media, augmented reality, virtual reality, video games, cryptocurrencies, and other advanced technologies. The potential is huge.

Such futuristic use cases would require portals in public spaces and city centres, Al Hajri added. "Governments and cities should invest in building this infrastructure as soon as possible."

Dubai Municipality is also planning to launch a programme called One Human Reality Talks, aimed at bringing together companies and investors to develop and share this new reality. It will include dialogues with experts, insights, cooperative use cases, knowledge sharing, and more.

Betting big on digital property

The metaverse encompasses 5G, AI, blockchain, content creation and other elements. Some of the leading firms in the UAE are investing big in this disruptive world as users spend maximum hours in the virtual world - be it for gaming, shopping, social interactions and so on.

The Damac Group has said it will build its own digital cities - and could become one of the pioneers in the GCC if it does so. The realty firm will execute its vision through Damac Properties, data centre firm Edgenex, luxury jeweller de Grisogono and fashion house Roberto Cavalli, which will launch virtual homes, digital property, digital wearables, and digital jewellery.

Meanwhile, another Dubai-based real estate brokerage Union Square House (USH) is set to launch the first metaverse mansions in the nation. In addition to ownership, investing in digital mansions allows buyers to view their properties in Augmented Reality form (see artist’s impression of the project pictured below), and interact with other users and digital neighbours.

Founder Gaurav Aidasani said: “Our foray into the metaverse stems from our strong belief in a prevalent virtual world that is set to transform many sectors, on top of which is real estate.”

Notching up the NFTs

The adoption of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) in Dubai has been snowballing. The real estate sector is considered one of the primary beneficiaries, standing first in line to benefit from Web 3.0 applications, which run on the blockchain technology using decentralised, peer-to-peer networks.

According to recent market data, real estate sales in the Metaverse reached $500 million in 2021, and the sales volume is expected to double in 2022. The metaverse real estate market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 31 per cent from 2022 to 2028.

Leveraging Dubai’s astute investor community and a relatively young population, which is characterised by high levels of familiarity and comfort with the concept of virtual worlds and its prospects, USH plans to develop and sell ultra-luxury digital properties as NFTs, with or without their physical twins.

Emirates airline is not to be left behind. The carrier has promised to launch NFTs and exciting experiences in the metaverse for its customers and employees soon. Building signature brand experiences, alongside both collectible and utility-based NFTs, are on the cards. Launches are anticipated in the coming months, with the first projects already underway.

Another example of global and local brands tapping the metaverse is Christofle. Known for its exceptional tableware, silver flatware, and home accessories, It was acquired by Dubai's Chalhoub Group in 2017.

The Parisian silversmith brand - in existence since 1830 - will enter the metaverse with its first NFT collection ‘925 Genesis MOOD’, to be unveiled on May 7. It refers to a fantastic imaginary city named Christofle Aurifaber Citatis in Latin, or The City of Christofle Silversmithing.

The metaverse action is hotting up, and this new virtual dimension is creating opportunities for businesses and individuals. Suffice it to say, the future has arrived - and it's right here in Dubai.

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