Telcos flesh out 5G volumetric use cases

Volumetric technology, which could be one of the most interesting applications based on 5G mobile networks, has to date been one of the most under-reported, but now UK and Japanese telco giants BT and NTT DoCoMo have, almost simultaneously, announced advances into the field.

In essence, volumetric video is a way of capturing an object or environment in three dimensions so that it can be seen remotely in 3D from any perspective. Low-latency 5G connectivity paired with edge network computing enables volumetrically captured objects to be streamed to a display and experienced in the same way people perceive an object moving in front of them.

Volumetric video will enable live events to be streamed online at high quality and in three dimensions, allowing viewers to watch in real time from any angle of their choosing.

Use cases can extend from watching live performances unfold from just a few feet away and moving around in them, to use by enterprises in industries ranging from e-commerce to healthcare and beyond. In architecture or manufacturing, for example, viewers will be able to virtually gather remotely around 3D virtual models of buildings or products and be able to collaborate and make adjustments.

There is also potential in remote education where virtual classrooms using 5G-enabled technology could close the divide faced by many children and families who are not able to access physical learning spaces and risk being disadvantaged. In hospitals, doctors will be able to study 3D scans of a patient’s body.

Looking at applications, BT said that volumetric video simply needs 5G. “The sheer amount of processing power required to render and display a high-resolution, three-dimensional image places too much pressure on even the latest smartphones,” said the company. “Today’s mobile devices would struggle to cope with the processing work required to stream a volumetric video.

“The innovation may still be in its infancy, but volumetric video and the associated AR and VR [augmented and virtual reality] new technologies we are working on at Adastral Park have vast transformative potential. The low latency and high bandwidth speed of 5G will enable us to ensure volumetric video becomes a technology we can use and gain value from every day. We are on the edge of a new era of three-dimensional technology.”

Japanese operator NTT DoCoMo has moved closer to this new era, announcing a partnership with global volumetric video provider Arcturus to help stream volumetric videos of any length over a mobile network for the first time.

This partnership is said to have surmounted the challenge whereby given the complexity and size of the files – which include detailed 3D geometry and multiple camera angles – volumetric videos have not been suitable for streaming anything beyond short clips. The companies say DoCoMo 5G mobile users now have the ability to stream volumetric videos of any length without a drop in quality.

To bring volumetric videos to mobile devices, DoCoMo is using its 5G network speeds and CDN, with Arcturus’s compression tools, adaptive bit-rate streaming system and video player, claimed to be capable of adapting to a device’s bandwidth to maintain the quality. Users can also access volumetric 3D models as AR or through VR, all in real time.

“We want to put volumetric video technology into the hands of anyone with a mobile device,” said Arcturus CEO Kamal Mistry. “DoCoMo’s 5G capabilities are among the best in the world, which gives us the opportunity to really push the technology forward by leaps and bounds.”

Naoto Matoba, manager of NTT DoCoMo’s innovation management department, added: “Working with Arcturus, we are able to anticipate the needs of our customers now and in the future, and offer them solutions before they know they want them Volumetric videos offer an entirely new way to experience content, and now that we can offer them to anyone with a mobile device, we expect the interest to grow rapidly.”

The partnership between DoCoMo and Arcturus is being showcased during the DoCoMo Open House 2021, where volumetric videos are featured in a virtual booth.