Mobile services

The Impact of Virtual Reality

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

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Joe Stanganelli 3/19/2016 | 6:34:48 AM
Re: Lawnmower man anyone? @Danny: It also has to do with the person.  Some people are more prone to that kind of thing than others.  And it's also not just motion sickness, but simply sickness from staring at certain on-screen images.  I know people who can't play certain types of video games, for instance, because it gives them debilitating migraines.  Others aren't bothered.
Joe Stanganelli 3/19/2016 | 6:32:49 AM
Re: For enterprise, ok. For leisure, though? Less ok. @Danny: I guess I'm just bitter and cynical.  As my career has evolved, I've begun looking for ways to reduce the number of methods for people to contact me -- not increase that number.  ;)
Joe Stanganelli 3/18/2016 | 8:48:58 AM
Re: For enterprise, ok. For leisure, though? Less ok. @thebulk: Seriously!  Couldn't he see what he was interfering with?!

Oh, yeah.  Right.
KBode 3/10/2016 | 7:33:31 PM
Re: Lawnmower man anyone? I guess I didn't realize that motion sickness can be "traind out" of the body. Is that the case? I've struggled with it in the car, and am hoping it's not a problem for VR.
DannyDicks 3/10/2016 | 9:59:06 AM
Re: Lawnmower man anyone? Sure. Lots of things to consider.
brooks7 3/10/2016 | 9:53:52 AM
Re: Lawnmower man anyone?  

Just to simplify the conversation:


I think the quote that should help define things:

"However, getting users interested in sickness for multiple days with the promise of "probably getting over it" is a struggle that developers of head-mounted gaming tech are struggling with."


DannyDicks 3/10/2016 | 3:18:17 AM
Re: Lawnmower man anyone? I'm not saying locally processed "motion-to-photon" latency isn't an issue - I know the chipset and GPU vendors are working hard to reduce this (Qualcomm states 20ms for motion-to-photon delay in Snapdragon 820 processors for instance - and that's for a smartphone). Rather it is the case that adding in network delay makes things more challenging. Current multiplayer games run on networks with 20-40ms latency. They work OK, but, as you say, headsets and VR will, err, change the game.

One side note: haptic feedback latency isn't as much of a challenge as visual - 30-50ms for haptics is considered instantaeous. It's possible that a fully immersive experience involving haptics might less the dependence on visual stimulus and mitigate to some extent the delay on the headset.
brooks7 3/8/2016 | 1:13:48 PM
Re: Lawnmower man anyone? The gaming world does not seem to agree with you on that commentary.  The sites that review these things don't make that distinction and in those cases it would be rendered locally.


DannyDicks 3/8/2016 | 9:13:23 AM
Re: Lawnmower man anyone? It's a good point you raise about motion sickness, but it has a lot to do with where the image is generated. For the high-end, "tethered" headsets where images are rendered on a high-spec gaming PC (or similar device) in response to local movement of the headset, the problem is not as significant as if the image is being generated in the cloud (on cloud GPUs), and network latency is added to the mix,

brooks7 3/7/2016 | 11:15:44 AM
Re: Lawnmower man anyone? Just be aware there are huge issues with movement and VR headsets.

The body "sees" you moving but does not "feel" it with any of your other senses like your inner ear.  They have a lot of work to do to make them not cause people to get sick from using them.


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