We have seen a lot of hype about virtual reality (VR) in the past few years, and we're currently seeing the same rush to VR that we previously saw with 3D printing. Right now, the barrier to entry for VR is still relatively high and geared towards large content providers and serious studios. But as the equipment and software to produce VR content become cheaper and more sophisticated, adoption of the technology will increase. This means that while we're currently in the early adoption phase of VR, the landscape will be very different in the next five years. By then, VR will be well on its way to mainstream adoption.
The success of any technology passes through web (and mobile). If there is a way to deliver a proper VR experience through some form of web technology, it lowers the barrier to entry. This kind of technology must be supported by the broadband industry. In the case of VR, broadband service providers must consider how they will be able to support increased bandwidth requirements. For instance, what access network will best fit their subscribers' needs, how can they increase capacity and how can they best monitor service quality?
Open source software could be an important part of the VR puzzle. If a standard like WebVR can get some steam, some VR software will become open source and it's likely that hardware like goggles and cameras will become more affordable. This would help reduce the barrier to entry for any VR content creator and consumer, and open up new possibilities for the future. My prediction? As happened in the music and video industries, the future will likely include YouTube VR channels that anyone can access and upload content to.
In terms of industrial applications, right now we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg. There are countless ways to benefit from VR in commercial applications. For example, VR enables you to operate machinery remotely without the costs of moving people around. It can be used in the medical, resource and mining fields, forestry and fisheries and countless other industries to present a realistic environment that could improve productivity and even help save lives.
This is all made possible by having reliable, resilient communication networks that span the globe, whether they are tethered through copper, coax or fiber, or even if they are wireless. Imagine mixing 5G and VR in remote areas to provide network access to operate dangerous machinery or monitor the environment.
Clearly, to increase VR consumption and creation, open standards like WebVR are necessary. Whether the current version will be the final standard eventually remains to be seen since standards usually go through improvements over the years, but something like WebVR is necessary to bring us the ubiquitous VR experience.
Once a standard is available to create content, then it opens the door for open source software to create VR content. There is an opportunity for commercial companies to invest in it, and there will be probably some convergence between proprietary standards and open standards like WebVR. It's an exciting time for the broadband industry and VR enthusiasts alike, with one thing certain -- more change is coming!