This past summer, we – Nitin Jain and Tim Sherwood – participated in the Moonwalk program, an initiative that promotes the culture of curiosity and learning here at Tata Communications. ‘Moonwalks’ are specific initiatives where a small group of volunteers are assigned a topic to research – typically focusing on key social challenges in the future, new technologies or emerging industries.
The teams are given four months to explore the topic — conduct market research, meet industry experts and hypothesise on future outcomes and impacts. For our moonwalk, the assigned topic was Augmented Reality (AR) with emphasis on business-to-business (B2B) applications. AR is being projected as the next computing platform with the potential to cause massive disruptions to many existing industries as well as create new ones in the process.
Just as we started our Moonwalk journey, the augmented reality based mobile game Pokémon Go hit the market, attracting millions of users throughout the world. While the game itself had basic elements of AR technology, the mass adoption of the app brought the conversation surrounding the potential of this new technology to the fore. It opened our eyes to the exponential growth opportunities associated with an easy-to-use, socially engaging AR app, and we started to debate what the future AR technology will look like, and what components need to come together to push it to the mainstream.
As we progressed, we became increasingly convinced that our telecom industry could play a pivotal role in underpinning the critical elements of the AR ecosystem to help it transition from its current experimental state to the mass market.
One of our early revelations was that we needed to quickly distinguish AR from other versions of “reality” related technologies. Of all the different approaches that bridge physical and digital experiences, augmented reality holds the most potential for benefits across consumers, enterprises and different industries.
The primary reason is that AR, unlike VR, aims at enhancing the experience of the real world by combining digital information and media, which can be used across much wider spectrum of applications and use cases, exponentially increasing its likely impact. But, as we all know, the real world experience involves multiple changing scenarios and variables, and is compounded further by the unpredictability of user behaviours. This makes AR, in a full potential mode, extremely data intensive, requiring massive amounts of data processing being computed via complex algorithms. And all that in real time.
Despite the significant advancement in computing technologies in recent years, we are still a long way away from the level of real time data transactions – volume, speed, security – required for AR to reach its full potential. Even the Pokémon Go app, with basic augmented reality features, was mired in various issues such as network outages, hacking, and users complaining about phone battery life issues. Problems such as these are serious bottlenecks that threaten to limit the widespread development and adoption of AR technology.
But who is in a better position to address these challenges than the telecom industry? Only it can create the advanced network infrastructure and the platform based ecosystem to enable complex data processing, storage and transport that advanced AR applications will require. ICT service providers that recognise this opportunity early will also capture larger share of the financial benefits.
In the next two blogs, we will look deeper into the challenges facing widespread adoption of AR and how telecom sector can play an enabling role in the evolution of this fascinating technology.
How do you see AR shaping the future of entertainment and communications? Let us know in the comments below.