Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica and Vodafone have teamed up with Matsuko, a technology firm that is developing 3D holograms for remote communication, to conduct mobile hologram video calls.
Last year, Cisco unveiled Webex Hologram, which uses augmented reality (AR) headsets to display 3D representations of meeting attendees, making them appear in the same space. A number of startups see this area of video conferencing as a growth opportunity, and Matsuko is hoping to capitalise on the powerful technology embedded in modern smartphones.
The aim is to make holographic calls as easily as voice calls. The 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 of communicating using this new holographic technology to deliver a more immersive “virtually there” experience,” said Daniel Hernández, vice-president, devices and consumer IoT, at Telefónica.
The four mobile network operators (MNOs) said they were looking to develop a platform that will combine the real and virtual worlds through a mobile connection, using a smartphone camera to generate a 2D video which is then rendered into a 3D hologram in the cloud to be streamed to viewers in an augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR) environment.
The operators claim that advances in connectivity, thanks to 5G and edge computing technology, make it possible to achieve smooth and natural movement of holograms, opening up a range of possible use cases.
The pilot uses technology provided by Matsuko to enable their respective customers to join a common holographic communication session. The trial platform uses the attributes of 5G connectivity – high speed, high bandwidth and low latency – to overcome some of the challenges in creating realistic 3D imagery that existed until now.
The hologram of each participant is created using the selfie camera of a smartphone to capture and transmit a real-time three-dimensional holographic image, which is then processed through a 3D rendering engine.
The companies taking part in the pilot claimed the technology enabled them to deliver a “virtually there” immersive experience and display the holographic image it creates in a virtual environment. The image can also be overlayed onto a real-world setting using VR/AR glasses.
Having successfully completed the first phase of the collaboration, the four companies said they would continue improving the underlying technology, with a focus on quality of service. For instance, they are currently examining the potential for broadcast-like delivery, creating the possibility for entire events or presentations to be conducted virtually. Future applications could include person-to-person or few-to-few, enhancing communication in consumer and business settings.
“If these past two years have shown us anything, it is that as humans we need each others’ presence. And even though we have come a long way with remote communication, today’s tools are still way too distant,” said Maria Vircikova, co-founder of Matsuko. “Our brain is wired for the third dimension, and we need a sensation of people physically being there.”
Discussing the pilot, Alex Froment-Curtil, chief commercial officer of Vodafone, said: “This proof of concept moves holographic communications dramatically on from science fiction to real-life smartphones.”
The fact that the mobile operators are collaborating offers consumers a greater chance of holographic calls being available across mobile networks, according to Karine Dussert-Sarthe, executive vice-president, marketing and design, at Orange Innovation.
“Thanks to this unique multi-operator collaboration, we are preparing our infrastructure to deliver open, interoperable and easy-to-use holographic communication services – a first but meaningful step towards the metaverse,” she said.