How 5G will create a world of volumetric video

We’ve known for some time now that 5G has the possibility to completely transform the parameters of what the technology industry will deliver. This next generation of networking will revolutionise the everyday connection of people and devices, enabling massive amounts of data to move at a pace we’ve never seen before.

At BT, we’re exploring how 5G is dramatically improving industries; manufacturing, healthcare, education and logistics are just a few areas where 5G enabled technology can transform operations, boost productivity, enhance workflows and create a smart sustainable environment for our future generations.

But whilst a lot of focus has been placed on 5G enabled tech such as robotics, data analytics, AI and IoT, few people have heard of one particular innovation called volumetric video which is poised to dramatically impact a whole range of industries in ways we’re only beginning to understand now. 

What is volumetric video?

Volumetric video is a way of capturing a person, object or environment in three dimensions so that it can be seen remotely in 3D from any perspective. And, it’s one of many new technologies we’re experimenting with at Adastral Park, our innovation centre here at BT.

The low latency connectivity offered by 5G and paired with compute power sited at the edge of the network enables volumetrically captured objects, be that musicians performing on stage or a boxer fighting in a ring, to be seamlessly streamed to a display – and experienced in the same way our brains perceive an object moving in front of us.

In other words, volumetric video will enable live events to be streamed online at broadcast quality and in three dimensions, enabling viewers to watch the event in real-time from any angle of their choosing.

We will be able to watch live performances unfold from just a few feet away, to circle around or move in between the performers, and to experience events in real time – as if they are in our living room.

We discuss volumetric video  more in our latest Future is Now series, where we speak with Condense Reality, a business exploring the incredible ways that volumetric video is being used and the potential that 5G holds. 

Why is it important?

Maybe just 12 months ago, it was harder to imagine such a virtual and remote world to the one we’re experiencing right now. But due to the current climate triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, we’re starting to really recognise how important virtual technology is – and will continue to be – in the future.

Recently, we’ve all experienced what it means to live in a world powered by virtual interactions. We understand how meaningful it is, when we can’t be together, for our virtual world to be as seamless and intuitive as possible.

This is especially true for business, and for how we work together remotely.

In architecture or manufacturing, for example, employees will be able to virtually gather remotely around 3D virtual models of buildings or products and be able to collaborate and make adjustments, allowing every stakeholder throughout the supply chain to react in the moment ensuring a more seamless flow through across the production process.

And think about what volumetric video could do for remote education, particularly when we’re facing one of the biggest disruptions to learning for young people. Virtual classrooms using 5G enabled technology can close that divide for many children and families who are not able to access physical learning spaces and risk being disadvantaged. 

Revolutionising industries

A whole range of diverse industries, from communications and entertainment to health and education, stand to benefit from this technology.

For business, small and large, volumetric video will open up new ways of collaborating, enabling virtual offices to be created – rather than colleagues communicating on a flat screen. Full-scale models can be created and shared in 3D, allowing everyone in a production line to properly assess a final product. Presentations and meetings can be held without the need to fly across the world, lowering a business’ carbon footprint.

And, it’s not just broadcasting and communications that will benefit from volumetric technology. Consider retail; we will be able to virtually enter a high street boutique and try on clothes to make sure they fit and look good before ordering the physical garment. We could even tour the interiors of homes for sale without entering the space itself.

In hospitals, doctors will be able to study 3D scans of a patient’s body. They might be able to view a hologram of a patient’s heart, helping them to form a clear diagnosis. Scientists’ ability to collaborate, experiment and share research across continents will be able enriched by the creation of virtual labs, as well as the potential volumetric study of microscopic organisms, allowing them to discover new information, improve diagnosis and develop new medicines.

We are only just beginning to understand the vast potential of this technology.

Why is 5G such a key part of this new technology?

Well simply put, volumetric video 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. Today’s mobile devices, then, would struggle to cope with the processing work required to stream a volumetric video.

Edge compute facilities paired with high-end graphics processors placed at the edge of the 5G network means the intensive processing is done on remote computers before then being streamed to your device over 5G with super low latency.

The innovation may still be in its infancy, but volumetric video and the associated AR and VR 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.

There is so much to be excited about. We’re on the edge of a new era of three-dimensional technology.