The recent history of wireless carriers is bound up with the evolution of the screen. As phone displays evolved to be bigger, brighter and better, so the volume of video content carried on wireless networks increased, driving investment in infrastructure and causing a rethink about what telecom services were fundamentally about. (Of course, fixed broadband networks have carried more video traffic to wireless devices, too.)
When screens became the way we interacted with what we saw on them -- or, indeed, with anything in the digital world -- phones and tablets started to become key enablers of a raft of services: entertainment, controlling the lighting and heating in our houses, swiping away potential lovers and much, much more besides.
But is the screen nearing the end of its time as the predominant driver of the way telecom networks are built and services delivered? In the near future, will we experience reality in a different way? Will we stop walking around holding a screen in front of us, or dragging and dropping icons by tapping our fingers on a piece of glass?
Already we talk to devices more, knowing our words are interpreted accurately enough to be useful, and pretty much every app knows where we are without us having to type it. There's much more to come: virtual reality (VR) headsets are about to hit the market with the full force of consumer electronics marketing behind them (that's a pretty awesome force). In their wake will come a wave of peripherals that will extend the experience of the headset by building in more sophisticated feedback based on hand position, gestures and body movement and position.
And yes, I realize that the VR headsets that will sell in the largest numbers and become the most important in the market will all have a smartphone inside them, but you really don't think of it as a smartphone screen -- or even a screen at all -- once you have the headset on: that's the whole point. It's a virtual reality. As the ability to interact with the virtual worlds enabled by the smartphone-in-a-headset becomes more refined and sophisticated, it is possible it will change the way we want to interact with the digital world: 2D screens for viewing and manipulating things won't be good enough anymore.
It's not possible to say at this stage how we will take up VR devices and content and services created for them, but there are many that say the genie is out of the bottle. It's time for wireless carriers to start thinking about the implications.
The latest Heavy Reading report report, "Preparing for Virtual Reality," analyzes the state of the market for VR technology and services, looking at current applications and those in development, outlining their key characteristics. It assesses the impact that different VR applications will likely have on telecom network operators by considering application throughput and latency requirements; it also assesses which applications are likely to be mass market and which will remain small scale. It describes the elements that make up the technology and service value stack for VR and shows where different companies are active. Finally, it profiles 14 innovative players across the broad VR market.
— Danny Dicks, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading