Many of us will view virtual (VR) and augmented (AR) technologies, collectively known as cross reality (XR), as a myth from futuristic fantasy films
However, people often fail to realise that XR is slowly becoming part of our daily lives and will continue to grow in popularity – albeit not to the scale of Ready Player One anytime soon.
XR is already starting to become more accessible. It would be incorrect to think that you need an expensive headset or room-scale tech to experience XR – consumers are now able to access these immersive experiences through something as simple as their web browsers.
Businesses are implementing immersive technologies to benefit both their customers and their employees – in industry and construction, XR can be used for staff training. The demand for these technologies is on the rise: 50 per cent of companies not currently using the technology will start experimenting with it in the next 2-3 years, and 82 per cent of adopters say the benefits are meeting or exceeding expectations.
Immersive experiences will be the next driving force in customer experience. When a consumer tries to buy a house, they may enjoy a VR tour or an AR view of different furniture in the space. Fashion retailers are already offering customers AR projections of how clothes will look on them. Products will become more real for consumers, and the concept of ‘try before you buy’ will take on a whole new meaning.
However, further and more widespread XR adoption faces a major obstacle in the present; a lack of suitable IT infrastructure. 5G networks, already being trialed by EE and Vodafone, will be instrumental in delivering these immersive experiences to customers, but the applications still need to be stored somewhere.
While they differ in scale, XR experiences are digital worlds in themselves. Many are even layered on top of our own real world, emulating its complexity. These services require an immense amount of data to operate, something that traditional data centres will struggle to contain. The challenge is only magnified if user interaction and contributions are encouraged. As users add to this digital world, the amount of data stored increases exponentially. Brands will need environments that can scale with these growing mountains of data.
What’s more, XR experiences need to be low-latency; a user won’t wait around for the information they need to load. The magic of an AR app like WallaMe is its immediacy; messages written by the WallaMe community and hidden in the world are delivered in near real-time. If a user had to wait while the service accessed their geo-location information and hunted across several siloed databases for the content they wanted to see, the novelty would quickly wear off.
To some extent, customers will wait for the content they want if they have something to distract them. Think of the last time you reached for your phone while waiting for a webpage to load or during a broadband delay. However, when all the user can see is a loading screen you can’t hope to hold their attention for long. XR has the potential to transform customer interaction, but the experience will be compromised as long as it rests upon legacy physical infrastructures.
Virtual reality needs virtual servers
The front-end, mass XR customer experiences of the future will be underpinned by high-capacity cloud-native apps. These are applications developed specifically for the cloud, fully utilising its flexibility and power. Applications, data and memory can all be stored in cloud environments, ready to be streamed to customers on-demand through tomorrow’s 5G networks.
The cloud allows businesses to scale almost infinitely with demand. As XR applications grow in popularity, companies will need more storage space for both their applications and the valuable data – personal and behavioural information – that customers share with them. In a physical environment, you would need to continuously purchase more physical infrastructure to keep pace, but the cloud scales on demand. When demand begins to dip again this can be scaled down, ensuring the company is not paying for capacity it no longer needs.
Cloud-native technologies give companies the ability to deploy innovations and service updates in an uninterruptable continuous cycle, and at a hyper-scale capacity. For more complex immersive services, such as VR games, this is crucial. Users expect constant updates in order to stay engaged, and companies will need to add new features all the time to ensure XR apps reflect their changing businesses. Cloud-native apps deliver a constantly fresh, frictionless, low-latency experience for users, vital for XR applications.
XR is no longer confined to futuristic fantasy films. The rapid rate of technological change means that more immersive experiences are just around the corner. In 2019, we should aim to ensure that the cloud-native applications and 5G support required for XR experiences are perfected. With the right support, XR will move into the mainstream in the 2020s.
About the Author
Ajmal Mahmood, customer contact propositions lead at KCOM. KCOM designs and delivers communications and integration services across the UK. After listening to and learning from our customers, we apply our technical knowledge to help them connect with the things that matter.