What’s the reality for AR and VR?

What’s the reality for AR and VR?
The applications of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are beginning to take the world by storm. How can the telecoms sector stand to gain by it? Saleh Bari explores

For many of our blog readers, their first tryst with augmented reality was the innocuous game Pokémon Go which had people running out of their houses with their mobile phones trying to catch one of those elusive Pokémon. In many ways, this was the moment which propelled augmented reality into the mainstream. But apart from the obvious applications in gaming and entertainment, businesses are now slowly waking up to the potential of this technology for other industries as well.
Virtual reality, which is often confused with augmented reality, is the more sophisticated technology of the two. With super cool headsets and gadgets, dabbling with this technology seems like the stuff of sci-fi movies, and Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Microsoft’s HoloLens and HTC’s Vive are amongst the most popular of the current crop of VR devices. As with AR, gaming, media and entertainment remain popular mediums for the use of VR too. However, VR was a huge talking point at the Mobile World Congress earlier this year, clearly highlighting the fact that telecoms and allied industries will fuel the next phase of growth for this technology.
Before we specifically look at possible use cases for the telecoms industry, it is important to understand the differences between the two technologies.
AR is a technology that blends digital components with live video images to deliver a new user experience, but the user can easily distinguish between the different layers. VR, on the other hand, is a more immersive experience and creates a completely new digital world for users. Delivered through devices such as VR headsets, it transports the users to an imaginary world that simulates real world environments. 

AR, VR and Telcos

For these technologies to realise their full potential, they need networks which have high capacity, high performance and low latency and of course that’s where the telcos come in. While the current breed of 4G networks can power some base-level VR and AR applications (such as Pokémon GO), going to the next level will require the greater speed and bandwidth of 5G networks. This next-gen wireless technology will enable much faster data and very low latency which is critical for mass adoption of AR and VR applications. 
As curators of content and applications, mobile network operators can also aid in discovery and delivery of AR and VR applications to end users. They can be a significant medium to reach the end users by reducing barriers to discovery and distributing AR and VR apps through their app stores. This will also help them explore newer revenue mechanisms through increased revenue sharing with app developers, data revenues and sales of devices.
Telecoms businesses can also start using these technologies to bolster their customer service and engagement. This is one area that telcos have traditionally struggled with, but VR-powered platforms can help them exponentially improve their customer experience. For instance, telcos could easily use VR to demonstrate and test new ‘smart’ products in a ‘real environment. While this might be more applicable for sales, even customers could utilise this technology to download demo apps and experience these applications. Customers could also use VR to connect with service engineers who can visit the site virtually, diagnose the problem and recommend trouble-shooting options.
AR, on the other hand, can be used to bolster network inventory / network management capabilities and enable telcos to view wires, equipment and perform network modelling in an augmented fashion. For example, imagine a field engineer being able to find a street cabinet or specific cables simply by holding up a smartphone and opening a specific app.
VR and AR can also be leveraged to generate a range of content for new media & entertainment services. Leading telcos like AT&T have already announced their OTT services to compete in this space and VR will offer them further opportunities too.
AR will also find many applications within the Internet of Things (IoT), and it would require the power of 5G to drive these functions. In addition, telcos will also need to keep up with the real-time data streams and analytics engines utilising this data.

The Road Ahead

The emerging fields of AR and VR will place newer demands on telecom operators. Bandwidth and latency will become increasingly significant to power these new experiences and it will only be the telcos who are in a position to cater for this increasing demand. Crucially, they can also improve their own business operations with the help of these technologies and overhaul their customer engagement and business processes.
Of course, telcos will have to contend with challenges such as high initial capital investments, lack of common standards and cyber security threats.

Nevertheless, these technologies present a great opportunity for service providers to get a first-mover advantage and create AR and VR ecosystems that can drive more revenues and supercharge their next phase of growth.

Also, read our other blogs in the series: