From smartphones to glasses: 5G supports the development of extended reality (XR)

Between connectivity, advanced software technologies, content production and other areas, extended reality requires a wide range of experts to join forces. In recent months, carriers, whose know-how has placed them at the forefront of the revolution, have been cultivating an ecosystem that encourages such synergy.

“The next decade will be marked by a transition towards a society where glasses will end up being an alternative to smartphones”

Extended reality (XR) is one of the new use cases that exploits the full technological and innovative potential of 5G. The fifth generation of mobile networks is a key technical enabler of innovative and immersive experiences on the go. Increased performance in terms of latency, throughput and energy consumption and an ability to distribute processing between devices and the network via the “Cloud XR” will all ultimately contribute to the creation of high-performance, smooth, collaborative and real-time XR services.

Cooperation along the chain

The age of extended reality is just around the corner and industry players are getting ready to help kick it into orbit. Earlier this year, Qualcomm announced the launch of its XR/5G platform and a programme bringing together 15 global carriers in order to speed up the public release of XR “viewers” that are compatible with smartphones. More recently, the South Korean carrier LG U+ established a similarly motivated alliance, which will bring together carriers and content creators. And in the past few months, Deutsche Telekom’s tech incubator, hubraum, has teamed up with augmented reality glasses manufacturer Nreal to encourage developers to design the future of XR applications. In this way, the key players in extended reality are gradually agreeing on common structures, roadmaps and environments.

Inter-carrier cooperation

One of the latest initiatives involves two international carriers from Europe, Orange and Deutsche Telekom. These two groups—which have been exchanging ideas on virtual reality and augmented reality for several years now—share the belief that extended reality is bound to make its presence felt in personal and professional spheres, provided that its user accessibility and assimilation are encouraged. This partnership aims to bring about the firepower required to meet the many challenges involved head on. In the words of Sean Seaton, Senior Vice President, Group Partnering and Devices at Deutsche Telekom: “We believe that the next decade will see a transition into a heads up society where eventually glasses will be an alternative to smartphones. By closely collaborating with Orange we expect faster developments and broader scope to jointly develop the XR ecosystem while being as efficient as possible. As an Operator with many services we would like to develop the best customer experience. XR with 5G as an enabling technology we believe we could enhance our existing services and delight our customers even with new services.”

A two-pronged exploration of the ecosystem

Together, the two groups intend to explore the nascent XR ecosystem, starting with content development. Morgan Bouchet, Director of Digital Content-Innovation & Head of XR at Orange, explains: “One of the key focuses of this collaboration is content. Both Orange and Deutsche Telekom have been moving forwards with projects to develop platforms that deliver XR/5G, and have been confronted with a common challenge: finding high-quality interactive and immersive content. Supply is still limited in this market, with designs being few, far between and expensive. Together, we are better equipped to compete with larger players, especially the GAFA group, in order to purchase premium content.” The first content deal out of this partnership, with Félix & Paul Studios, will provide in Europe for the Deutsche Telekom and Orange VR platform the 1st episode of ‘Space Explorers – The ISS Experience’, produced in association with TIME Studios.

From content to services

The second major focus of the partnership is services. The two carriers plan to share their respective progress in user experience, design and technical developments. Daniel Aslam from Deutsche Telekom – Global Partnering & XR Business Development Manager and Partnering, states: “Especially in the context of Sports and TV we see huge potential and benefit for our customers. We are exploring XR Immersiv Media use cases where for example the TV interacts with mixed reality glasses. This we will continue in 2021 in a co-development project with Orange.” Mathieu Ducrot, Product Marketing Director, 5G & XR Services at Orange, describes the collaboration as follows: “We have identified the challenges of achieving synergy between our XR exploration projects. Firstly, these concern XR content distribution and aggregation platforms. In addition, XR marks the next step in our digitalisation process: We want to share our thoughts on the products and services being developed by carriers that take advantage of this new way of interacting. Lastly, the collaboration is a joint effort to identify the future service and growth opportunities being created by XR. By pooling our thoughts and solutions, we will be more efficient.”

Since extended reality is closely linked to the concept of mobility, network assets will become critical in adopting its new uses as they arise, as a result of the progress facilitated by Cloud XR in particular. It was only natural that carriers would encourage this new ecosystem in a direct and coordinated way.

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