Pandora! In the motion picture Avatar, Pandora is a beautiful fictional place and a paradise for nature lovers. The 3D version of the film left a deep impression in my mind, as I am sure it did with many other moviegoers who might share my dream of experiencing a vacation in Pandora. Well, that may soon be possible with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).
What is VR?
What is AR?
And where did all this begin? We have always been intrigued with compelling visual experiences – big screen movies, 3D graphics, and higher definition TVs. – All of these media display techniques have something in common – filling up our entire field of vision with an image that makes us feel present at that place within it. Surround sound was designed to provide a 360° audio experience to immerse viewers deeper within the virtual space.
Where do we go from here? We live in an Information age, where our public and private environments are full of content and data that is processed, transmitted and posted in ways that allow us to access and interact with it. This pervasive preponderance of consumable content is what drives VR and AR – somewhat similar to the experiences depicted in the movie Total Recall, where experience and virtual reality are simulated and you can have real memories of it. VR engages all our senses and gaming seems to be where this technology has had its initial major impact.
But not just gaming and entertainment, each and every industry can perhaps be transformed if touched by virtual reality- think education and even your office- by staying in the comfort of your home and with a very high bandwidth connection, you can interact with and talk to your colleagues and fellow students.
The applications are endless and many have not even been thought of as yet.
In fact, today’s VR is very similar to early concepts developed in the 70’s and 80’s. So, why is there so much telecom industry and media buzz around VR implementations in 2016? Well, many innovative enablers have contributed to the new view and promise of VR that we are experiencing today:
- VR content: there was not much content available for people to view – with the advancement in digital photography and media technologies there are many players who are dedicating all their efforts in generating VR content. For example, Magic Leap (a U.S. start-up) that superimposes digital content on real situations and Matterport (an immersive media technology company) that focuses on digitizing all 3D spaces that exist. VR content is still in its nascent stages and content generation will be faster in some industries compared to others. Gaming appears to be the initial “sweet spot” for VR content development.
- Evolution of networks and edge computing – VR requires large data transfers and processing at relatively higher speeds to respond to user interaction with VR content. Edge and cloud computing solutions have evolved quite a bit in the last few years (and public and private IP networks have evolved dramatically within the last decade as well).
- Evolution of consumer devices: VR headsets were only meant for the rich and the scientist and not ready for commercial prime time. Acquisition of Oculus by Facebook and now Google’s project Tango and cardboard headsets is changing all that. Cisco’s Visual Networking Index predicts that by 2020, 601 million devices and connections will be wearables (which includes VR headsets) and this will have 44% CAGR throughout the forecast period from 2015-2020 so we are seeing considerable growth happening in this segment.
Evolution of a new platform ecosystem:
For any new platform to succeed it needs to have not just the right technical model but also the right ecosystem and business model. There needs to be enough economical interest for different ecosystem players to jump in and make significant investments to develop the ecosystem.
The tipping point:
No commentary on VR or AR can go without the mention of Pokemon Go. With an $11 billion bump in valuation in just 11 days for Nintendo, there’s a tangible economic incentive for many VR and AR ecosystem players to grab a piece of the profit potential.
It takes an initial investment to develop one side of the ecosystem that automatically creates network effects and develops the other side of the ecosystem. It is a chicken and egg situation or the dilemma of the first penguin that jumps in the water to be followed by all other penguins – someone needs to take the first leap.
Big tech giants such as Facebook and Google whose business revolves around consumer engagement have decided to take that first leap to take VR to the consumer community – the VR ecosystem is just now starting to shape up. With Facebook, Google and now Samsung and Sony developing anywhere from free to very cheap VR headsets each of which will drive vast adoption of VR amongst consumers and in turn will encourage more organizations to develop VR content and for ISVs (independent software vendors) to develop applications for VR.
Impact on Service Providers:
All these fascinating innovations will place new demands on the network in terms of its quality and performance. Bandwidth and latency requirements will become increasingly imperative for a high quality VR and AR experience and Service Providers need to take a note of this new demand. Virtual Reality traffic has the highest growth traffic category that the Cisco VNI team tracks and it has quadrupled in 2015, from 4.2 Petabytes per month in 2014, to 17.9 Petabytes per month in 2015. Globally, Virtual Reality traffic will increase 61-fold between 2015 and 2020, a compound annual growth rate of 127 percent.
This is a tremendous opportunity for service providers to jump in at and provide their distribution and GTM (Go to market) muscle to further drive the adoption of VR. VR ecosystems are just being formed now and unlike the Cloud wave Service providers can catch some of these early developments and gain significantly by owning or helping develop some of the VR ecosystems that will ultimately drive their network connectivity offerings.
What we are seeing now is just the beginnings of this ecosystem being formed. Platform wars are yet to come so stay tuned! While the big giants fight the platform wars – the ultimate beneficiary is going to be the consumer.
Whether the evolution of VR and AR ultimately lead us to real-life manifestations of The Matrix or Avatar is yet to be determined. What appears certain is that VR and AR adoption are primed for growth and early platform sponsors are most likely to shape their future and reap near-term economic benefits.