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How can the telecom sector deliver augmented reality?

December 20, 2016

Tim Sherwood and Nitin Jain   

Vice President, Mobile Market Development and Strategy

In the previous blog, we discussed how augmented reality, destined to be the next computing platform, is still a nascent technology and needs to cross a big chasm to reach its mass market adoption. Now, let’s look in detail at some of the key challenges facing AR today.

Most current AR applications have been able to create the initial excitement, but have struggled to sustain it. This is due to the fact that AR applications today (barring a few) can be characterised as “basic” as they have very limited functionality, and may be good only for specific one time use. Most, also, only allow for one-way interaction, rendering finite information to the user.

For AR to become truly mainstream, it has to allow multiple interactions and transactions, and should be able to better contextualise user environment and behaviour. That will unlock the true potential of AR and enable it to be used across multiple applications and scenarios. But to get there, AR has to first overcome many bottlenecks that exist today.

Some of the direct technology-related challenges in the AR space are quite well known and well documented, such as the lack of standards, the many variations in hardware and operating systems, and the limitations around AR content authoring, 3D tracking, optics, etc. These challenges will start to resolve slowly as the AR technology evolves and matures, and companies start to make investments in this space.

But there are other aspects of a strong ecosystem – which are not in direct control of the technology companies working on AR – that also need to simultaneously come together. The root cause of these ecosystem issues is related to the fact that AR is very complex and data intensive. AR requires complex algorithms and real-time data transactions in order to seamlessly integrate with the user’s constantly changing real world experience. As a result, the following will become key ecosystem requirements for AR to get to the next stage:

  1. Computational power– AR applications require complex algorithms to work but current devices – such as smartphones and kiosks – are not built to support these types of data-intensive applications. Hence, it will be necessary for the data processing to happen outside of these display devices
  1. Real-time data transport back and forth– The key attraction of AR will be its ability to contextualise the user environment and render results/ information within that current real world context. But this will need large volumes of real-time data transactions between the user and the backend AR setup
  1. Broadband bandwidth- A standard remote AR user will be sending large amounts of data to servers constantly, and will therefore need a high-speed broadband internet connection. Currently, the availability of broadband, upload/download speed performance and the costs associated with ubiquitous broadband access vary greatly across the globe. This will limit AR growth as users and application owners require affordable, “always-on” high-speed access
  1. Security- Many enterprises would be keen to leverage AR, particularly in areas that could increase customer engagement, enhance workforce productivity and improve employee satisfaction. This will require the layering of corporate sensitive data on the AR applications, many of them running on the cloud. Hence, security will become a critical component that will determine the extent of adoption by enterprises
  1. Making the technology scalable and more affordable- Lastly, there is the lack of a platform-based system that can allow more companies to leverage AR in more scalable and affordable manner

These requirements can be effectively addressed by the telecom sector as it has unique assets to enable widespread AR technology adoption.

In the next blog (and the last of this series), we will look closely at the role telecom sector can play in the AR space, and discuss some of the immediate opportunities it can capture.

How do you see enterprises adapting to deliver augmented reality? Let us know in the comments below.