Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica and Vodafone have partnered with Matsuko, a technology company that develops 3D holograms for remote communication, to make mobile hologram video calls.
Last year, Cisco unveiled Webex Hologram, which uses augmented reality (AR) headsets to display 3D representations of meeting participants, making them appear in the same space. A number of startups see this area of video conferencing as a growth opportunity, and Matsuko hopes to capitalize on the powerful technology built into modern smartphones.
The goal is to make holographic calls as easily as voice calls. Matsuko technology works through an app available on the App Store for iOS, Google Play for Android devices, and the Microsoft Store for PCs running Windows.
“We are confident that in the near future we will be able to offer our customers a new way to communicate using this new holographic technology to deliver a more immersive ‘virtually there’ experience,” said Daniel Hernández, vice- President, Consumer Devices and IoT, at Telefónica.
The four mobile network operators (MNOs) said they were looking to develop a platform that would combine the real and virtual worlds over a mobile connection, using a smartphone camera to generate 2D video which is then rendered in a 3D hologram in the cloud to be streamed to viewers in an augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR) environment.
Operators say advances in connectivity, thanks to 5G and cutting-edge computing technology, are enabling smooth and natural movement of holograms, opening up a range of possible use cases.
The pilot uses technology provided by Matsuko to allow their respective clients to join a common holographic communication session. The test platform uses the attributes of 5G connectivity – high speed, high bandwidth and low latency – to overcome some of the challenges of creating realistic 3D images that have existed until now.
Each participant’s hologram is created using a smartphone’s selfie camera to capture and transmit a three-dimensional holographic image in real time, which is then processed by a 3D rendering engine.
Companies participating in the pilot said the technology allows them to deliver an immersive “virtually there” experience and display the holographic image it creates in a virtual environment. The image can also be superimposed on a real environment using VR/AR glasses.
After successfully completing the first phase of the collaboration, the four companies said they would continue to improve the underlying technology, with a focus on service quality. For example, they are currently looking at the potential of a broadcast-style broadcast, creating the possibility of entire events or presentations being hosted virtually. Future applications could include person-to-person or bit-to-bit communications, improving communication in consumer and enterprise environments.
“If the past two years have shown us anything, it’s that as human beings, we need each other’s presence. And even though we have come a long way with remote communication, today’s tools are still far too far away,” said Maria Vircikova, co-founder of Matsuko. “Our brain is wired for the third dimension, and we crave a sense of physical presence.”
Discussing the pilot, Vodafone Chief Commercial Officer Alex Froment-Curtil said: “This proof of concept takes holographic communications dramatically from science fiction to real-life smartphones.”
The fact that mobile operators are collaborating offers consumers a greater chance that holographic calls will be available on mobile networks, according to Karine Dussert-Sarthe, executive vice president, marketing and design, at Orange Innovation.
“Through this unique multi-carrier collaboration, we are preparing our infrastructure to deliver open, interoperable, and easy-to-use holographic communication services – a significant first step towards the metaverse,” she said.
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