Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica and Vodafone have partnered with Matsuko, a technology company developing 3D holograms for long-distance communications, to conduct mobile hologram video calls.
Last year Cisco introduced Webex Hologram, which uses augmented reality (AR) headsets to display 3D representations of meeting participants so they appear in the same room. A number of startups see this area of video conferencing as a growth opportunity, and Matsuko hopes to capitalize on the powerful technology of modern smartphones.
The goal is to make holographic calls as easy as making 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 Windows PCs.
“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 provide a more immersive ‘virtual on-site’ experience,” said Daniel Hernández, Vice President, Devices and Consumer IoT at Telefónica.
The four mobile network operators (MNOs) said they are developing a platform that combines the real and virtual worlds over a mobile connection by using a smartphone camera to generate a 2D video that is then stored in the cloud as a 3D hologram rendered will be streamed to viewers in augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR) environments.
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 number of possible use cases.
The pilot uses technology provided by Matsuko to allow its respective customers to participate in a shared holographic communication session. The test platform leverages the attributes of 5G connectivity – high speed, high bandwidth and low latency – to overcome some of the previously existing challenges in creating realistic 3D images.
Each participant’s hologram is created using a smartphone’s selfie camera to capture and transmit a real-time three-dimensional holographic image, which is then processed by a 3D rendering engine.
Companies participating in the pilot said the technology allows them to deliver an immersive experience “virtually on-site,” displaying the holographic image it creates in a virtual environment. The image can also be overlaid onto 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 examining the potential for a broadcast-like transmission and creating the possibility of holding entire events or presentations virtually. Future applications could involve person-to-person or few-to-few, enhancing communication in consumer and business environments.
“If the last two years have shown us anything, it’s that as human beings we need each other’s presence. And while we’ve come a long way in long-distance communication, today’s tools are far too far away,” said Maria Vircikova, co-founder of Matsuko. “Our brains are wired for the third dimension, and we need to feel like humans are physically there.”
Vodafone Chief Commercial Officer Alex Froment-Curtil said of the pilot, “This proof of concept dramatically brings holographic communications from science fiction to real-world smartphones.”
According to Karine Dussert-Sarthe, executive vice president, marketing and design, at Orange Innovation, the fact that mobile operators are working together gives consumers a greater chance that holographic calls will be available over mobile networks.
“Thanks to this unique multi-operator collaboration, we are preparing our infrastructure to provide open, interoperable and easy-to-use holographic communications services – a first but significant step towards the metaverse,” she said.