LIVE FROM HUAWEI GLOBAL MBB FORUM 2018, LONDON: High-ranking executives from across the mobile, content, technology and gaming industries came together to discuss the business cases and exciting experiences which will be enabled by the use of Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) technology delivered from the cloud over 5G network technology.

At the launch event of the GSMA’s Cloud AR/VR Forum, hosted at Huawei’s Global Mobile Broadband Forum 2018, speakers representing operators, device makers and other technology partners highlighted the need for collaboration if the industry is to make the most of the opportunity presented by “realities” technologies.

One of the most headline-grabbing use cases of Cloud AR/VR technology is likely to be in the gaming sector where access to the highest quality VR experiences currently requires the use of expensive and high-specification on-premises hardware. This not only limits the market by raising the barrier to entry, but severely restricts the form factor and portability of devices using the services.

General manager for Europe at VR pioneer HTC Vive, Paul Brown, told delegates he believed the use of 5G could bring mobile VR into line with experiences enjoyed by consumers using high-specification home PCs. HTC Vive has already begun testing VR through 5G, he added, with initial results very encouraging.

With collaboration, he added there was the potential to enable “cloud gaming everywhere in the world, taking the industry to a whole new level.” In addition to gaming, he added VR could create “moving and emotional” experiences in a number of spheres.

Not all content delivered over edge cloud will be reliant on headsets, however, or even strictly defined as AR/VR. Simulated Reality company KDX 3D group president Zhang Biao said his company hoped to be able to deliver interactive content directly into people’s vision through 3D screen technology.

Biao illustrated a futuristic world, enabled by low latency communications technology, where eventually avatars could be used instead of the actual person, with the two indistinguishable. In the more near-term, he pointed to enhanced consumer capabilities such as interactive video content for delivery over 5G.

While Brown and Biao focused on consumer applications, Intel general manager for its 5G infrastructure division, Caroline Chan, highlighted the vast enterprise potential of Cloud AR technology.

During her presentation, she highlighted many use cases in industrial settings for the new technology. Among them was a trial Intel had recently undertaken with a retailer in the US to deliver immersive experiences in-store, as its partner sought to stand-out in the hugely competitive sector.

Using this example, she added: “If brick and mortar stores were made interactive and you get the AR/VR experience, then you want to come back.”

The industrial use cases are endless, with logistics, healthcare, education and training among the sectors cited by the many experts speaking at the event.

One running theme, though, was collaboration and the importance of the work set to be undertaken by the GSMA Cloud AR/VR Forum. As Chan put it, Intel wants to “work with others to provide a blueprint to allow adoption.”

Operator opportunity
As executives from the hardware and content industries outlined exciting use cases delivered by low latency 5G services, operator representatives concentrated on the business case and network rollout priorities.

Tomas Alonso, head of product engineering for Orange Spain, said in the AR/VR field the “actual reality lies with the operator,” stating it was up to them to ensure these services could be delivered.

“We have to change the way we operate and build networks,” he added. “We have to accommodate both processes and networks.”

Deutsche Telekom SVP technology architecture and innovation, and chairman of the GSMA’s future network group, Arash Ashouriha, added the industry has to work together to define standards that are “developer friendly”. He noted the members of the forum “believed in openness” and sharing between operators and partners.

GSMA CTO Alex Sinclair said if the industry was going to achieve the “promise of a hyper responsive, intelligently connected world with 5G then the cloud is going to have to get a bit closer to the action.”

“Why now? Because this won’t happen organically. To really be what we need, we need the industry to do what it does best and come together so we can do this the same way and make it simple so it can actually scale,” he added. “It’ll take a while, so we need to start now. The other point is if we don’t do it, it either won’t happen at all or it won’t happen the right way.”

Ashouriha, meanwhile, noted it was important to ensure operators grasped the AR and VR opportunity, because if they didn’t, “somebody else would” – as had been the case with some previous technological evolutions.

The session officially launched the GSMA Cloud AR/VR Forum, backed by some of the largest operators and vendors in the industry including: China Mobile; China Telecom; China Unicom; Deutsche Telekom; Huawei; HTC; KDDI; KT; Niantic; NTT Docomo; SK Telecom; Telefonica; Telenor; TIM; Turkcell; and Vodafone.

It is an industry-wide initiative to support the development of AR and VR applications delivered over the cloud. Among its aims is to investigate protocols and best practice to enable the creation of a stable operator-led ecosystem, and push forward the development of AR and VR applications delivered over cloud technology.