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Connecting the virtual world

September 4, 2015

Alexandre Pelletier   

Blog Contributor

With the commencement of IFA 2015’s public opening today, Samsung is bringing its fans and followers the latest news, innovation and gossip from the show in virtual reality through its Samsung Tomorrow site. One of the first examples of a brand using VR to communicate with its audience on multiple devices, does this spark a trend for the more general world of broadcasting?

The broadcasting world is evolving apace. Consumers are viewing less broadcast content and more ‘individual’ content. Furthermore, viewing habits will evolve further, as new technologies enable broadcasters to deliver innovative new services and richer viewing experiences across multiple platforms.

One natural evolution for broadcast is the development of more immersive entertainment experiences such as Virtual Reality (VR). A concept originally associated with 1950s science fiction, VR is set to make a comeback. Initial attempts at crafting the technology failed to achieve widespread adoption, a prime example being Nintendo’s Virtual Boy headset. Virtual Boy is considered one of the only Nintendo productions that has failed and was discontinued after one year.

Where Virtual Boy failed, Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus, among others are gaining momentum, democratizing VR and taking it into consumers’ living rooms. A CCS Insight report predicts that augmented and VR hardware will become a $4billion market by 2018, increasing from 2.2m shipments to 20m in the next three years.

Understandably, VR is a concept that excites people. The idea of being immersed in a 3D virtual world within a film, a game or even another ‘real world’ location is a classic tale of man meets machine. Using the example of gaming, VR means that gamers can potentially be fully immersed in their game of choice, and imitate the experience of being the character(s) that they are controlling – whether that’s a FIFA footballer or a Call of Duty soldier.

Brands are already taking advantage of recent developments in the technology by doing live events. Take Topshop as an example. The fashion retailer collaborated with a 3D agency during London Fashion Week to allow fans to experience a virtual front-row seat at a fashion show through a live stream. Fans could put on an Oculus Rift VR headset placed in the window of the flagship store, enabling them to experience a 360-degree virtual world of the live catwalk show.

Then there’s Red Bull and its plans to launch Red Bull TV next year, which will enable real-time broadcasting and video distribution to optimise the viewing experience. As part of this service, Red Bull is looking to bring virtual reality elements and the 360 degree experience to its sports, music and entertainment content. Imagine putting on a headset, which transforms your surroundings and puts you in the midst of your favourite band performing live to a crowd on their headline tour.

To provide this experience to customers, combining the live experience with VR requires premium quality video delivery and as well as fast and reliable connectivity. What this means for network providers is that they need even greater quality. They must have fast, robust and intelligent networks in place to provide greater quality, consistency and low latency to prevent a stop-start and delayed connection that could dampen the experience, or potentially destroy it.

When VR and other immersive technologies achieve more widespread adoption, the next natural development will be for these technologies to go mobile. The 4G connection currently delivered by mobile devices will not sufficiently support the level of connectivity VR will require. More advanced networks are required to deliver the high-quality connection that these immersive experiences will demand.

While there has never been greater strain on global connectivity providers, the sophisticated infrastructure that connects the world we live in today should not be underestimated. High levels of investment have been made to engineer networks which are advanced enough to support factors such as population growth, and that have the capabilities to deliver VR to homes and communities around the world.

However, further understanding of the demands this rich traffic will place on networks is required, to ensure that networks are intelligent and robust enough to provide the user experience consumers expect.

To unlock networks that are capable of delivering VR in a way that is ubiquitous and highly reliable, network providers need to use intelligent traffic management to provide enhanced reliability and speed. This could mean that a technology that was dreamt up around 60 years ago finally becomes a reality for millions around the world.