Future Track : Augmented Reality is cool and profitable if.. !!

Presentation1Augmented Reality (AR) is a hot topic right now, attracting much of the hype that was reserved for apps a few years ago. Is AR simply the next stage of development for existing value propositions, or will it bring with it entirely new propositions that offer new revenue streams for the Telecoms ecosystem ? Augmented reality relies heavily on video display and database transaction technologies that will necessitate significantly more bandwidth than can be delivered by today’s 3G networks. When this is the case it is easy to see that the current mobile network infrastructure will not support broad rollouts of augmented reality applications, which can require multiple megabits of bandwidth as well as universal coverage. Aahaa : enter 4G LTE with Digital Dividend Spectrum and you catch my drift !!!

In simple terms, ‘Augmented Reality’ applications and technologies bring users information that exists in the digital world and presents it automatically and intuitively in association with things in the real, or physical, world. Often, but not always, this information is from the web. AR is about creating, making explicit and displaying the relationships between the real and virtual worlds.

AR apps combine reality with a digital overlay allowing consumers to virtually try on glasses or items of clothing using their mobile phone. Usage of AR in the retail area can enable retailers to bring an internet-like experience into their stores, allowing consumers to see more information on a product simply by pointing their camera at it. With image-recognition transferred to the cloud, the number of images that can be identified will increase dramatically enabling retail brands to develop apps for use in-store. Usage by entertainment brands will also drive usage by driving consumers to download AR apps and try them out with products that they are familiar with.

AR has been studied in one dimension or another in labs for over 20 years. The most important drivers in AR uptake have been the release of new sensor-laden and processor rich smartphones with touch interfaces connected to cloud services by faster networks. In addition to enhancements in computing power, devices are increasingly pre-packed with GPS, compass, accelerometers and gyroscopes, adding to the now ubiquitous cameras and microphones. Thermometers, RFID and other wireless sensors are also appearing. At the same time a critical amount of information is available in digital format, meaning the potential for bringing the real and virtual worlds together through a mobile device is huge.

With the commercialization of high speed data network such as the Fourth Generation (4G) cellular networks via Long Term Evolution (LTE), the use of AR applications in healthcare represents a particularly compelling value proposition for cost reduction and of course saving lives. Many AR applications in healthcare provide the benefit of visualizing three dimensional data captured from non-invasive sensors. Applications range from remote 3D image analysis to advanced telesurgery.

Qualcomm Inc. launched augmented reality platform for Android smartphones last year. Further they claim that Vuforia, their augmented reality platform has seen tremendous growth with use in more than 1000 applications in the last one year. Google has also come out with Project Glass, which provides a way to search for information, read text messages and watch online video without having to fumble around with a handheld device. Intel has funded a augmented reality company recently. Nokia is coming up with city lens technology in its yet to be launched Lumia 920 smartphone which recognizes the current location of the user and guides him about the important landmarks using the phones camera.

Telcos are entering the market as application or software developers, or promoting the services developed by a third party. For example, Bouygues Telecom in France released the first in-house operator-developed mobile AR look up service in November 2009 with over 900,000 unique points of interest (POI), while Telefonica has a group in Barcelona R&D which is working on its own visual search technology. NTT DoCoMo offers its smartphone subscribers the intuitive navigation services “chokkan nabi” developed under contract for DoCoMo devices. Orange UK launched a free iPhone app and AR service for the Glastonbury Festival and others have released similar apps around special events.

Philippine telco giant Globe’s Augmented Reality (AR) Christmas ad ran in major broadsheets with a colourful 5-part ‘Parol’ (Christmas lantern) depicting how Filipinos celebrate Christmas in diversity.The interactive ad allowed the audience to make their own Christmas “parol” and provided instant access for them to share it with their friends in social media. With AR, Globe hopes to establish a more personal engagement and intimate affiliations with brands, immersing them through different senses and forge a more robust interaction with its products and services.

Research firm Gartner Inc. proposes that augmented reality is one of the Top 10 strategic IT technologies of our time. According to research firm SEMICO, the total global revenue from augmented reality will touch 600 billion $ by the year 2016.They predict that more than 864 million mobile devices will be equipped with augmented reality by 2014 and more than 2.5 billion mobile augmented reality applications will be downloaded five years from now.

Science fiction or not that’s big business : so clever Telcos will stake a claim to this new market NOW by partnering with AR app developers , Advertisers , Retailers to create and monetise new AR apps.

Sadiq Malik ( Telco Strategist )

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