The Art of Teleconferencing: When the Conference Room is an IR Construct

December 4, 2020

Written by Ryan Szporer
Teleconferencing hologram
CATEGORY: Exclusives

Everyone has had to adjust in some way during the ongoing pandemic. Thanks to the need to work remotely, people have adapted by turning to teleconferencing applications, and the industry has taken off as a result.

Zooming Past Projections

For just one example, Zoom’s second-quarter revenue quadrupled to $663.5 million compared to 2019. Granted, it hasn’t all been rosy, with the app having experienced some bumps in the road, most notably in the form of outages just as the new school year started.

Even that one instance, in which Zoom deployed a fix, is an example of evolution in some respects. To this day, Zoom continues to implement new upgrades, while competition within the sector remains fierce with alternatives like Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams, and Skype readily available. Advances in technology can only help propel each to new heights.

As 5G continues to roll out, the improved bandwidth offers scope for the development of telepresence applications instead of just teleconferencing ones. With telepresence systems, people theoretically get the sensation they’re meeting others where they are, even if colleagues are in a different part of the world.

In actuality, telepresence already exists in some forms. It’s accomplished through a combination of devices, including screens set up in a panoramic orientation and top-of-the-line cameras and microphones, each of which contribute to a setting that gives the illusion of the entire group being in the same room.

A New Human Experience

The technology is advancing to the point where it will no longer be an illusion of sharing a physical room. Instead, people will share one virtual room, according to Volker Ziegler, who works in a role of 6G leadership at Nokia Bell Labs.

“Connecting new worlds would be in conjunction with digital worlds. It would start with this notion of mixed-reality telepresence,” said Ziegler, referring to the physical world and biological world, which would tie into the human experience. 6G is poised to connect them in ways previous generations have not been able to, he argued.

“[With 6G] we’d be having more of a mixed-reality session, where we would be able to move about and engage more, probably with avatars in conjunction with high-resolution mapping,” Ziegler said, speaking as part of webinar hosted by 6G Flagship, a research group based out of the University of Oulu in Finland.

The webinar, entitled “Challenges for 6G Addressing a Sustainable Future,” linked the theoretical development of 6G to the United Nation’s list of Sustainable Development Goals as part of the 2030 Agenda. 2030 is coincidentally when widespread adoption of 6G is expected by companies such as Samsung.

6G Flagship’s accompanying White Paper on 6G Drivers and the UN SDGs outlined several trends. These include holopresence systems, which may find an application helping the educational process by projecting “full-motion, real-time 3D digital twin images of distant people… along with real-time audio communication with a level of realism rivaling physical presence.” For all intents and purposes, telepresence has the capacity to yield similar results.

Telepresence’s Technical Requirements

High-fidelity holograms do figure into the “Samsung 6G Vision” as well. Samsung’s white paper, “6G The Next Hyper-Connected Experience for All,” goes into detail describing the technical requirements, specifically regarding holograms of the mobile variety.

Required data rates are projected to be hundreds of times greater than what is currently possible with 5G, factoring in the large number of pixels of a human-sized hologram. Artificial Intelligence may be required simply to maximize efficiency from compression and rendering standpoints. Regardless, it’s just one possibility.

“Imagine the experience of really sharing a virtual place, with an experience that is much more immersive and real and actually tactile,” said Dr. Tommaso Melodia, the director of the Institute for the Wireless Internet of Things at Northeastern University, in a separate interview.

“To be able to do this with a certain degree of realism, you need a lot of sensors and you need the ability to transmit a lot of data at once. And not only transmit a lot of data but transmit it with very low latency, latencies in the order of 1 ms or something like that. This is something that’s not possible today.”

Obviously, technological limitations are far from the priority right now. It’s instead sheer functionality at a time when the amount of people working remotely has surged in countries like the U.S. due to COVID-19.

In data compiled by Nokia, Western European telecommunications providers saw increases in traffic of up to 40% in just the pandemic’s early stages, compared to annual growth of up to 45% growth in other years. They also saw 300% growth in the use of teleconferencing apps.

As a result, the need for enhanced teleconferencing capabilities is taking somewhat of a backseat in the development of teleconferencing apps. Company priorities include dealing with overloaded network capacity and cybersecurity concerns, for example making all employees connect to the Virtual Private Network. However, it is on the list for both enterprises and their teleconferencing solution providers. It’s just going to take time, Melodia said.

“I don’t think it will be 5G,” he opined. “It may be 6G, but I think we’ll get to a point where we’re going to have more meaningful interactions in virtual spaces than what we have today, because there is a human need for that and there is a business need for that.”

Feature image courtesy of Becky Fantham (via Unsplash).

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