“According to a recent analysis by Research and Markets, the global AR/VR market will reach $94.4 billion by 2023.”
We are still at the beginning of the AR and VR revolution, but undoubtedly the technologies have the potential to revolutionize multiple industries over the next five to ten years. They certainly can transform the way we interact with the surrounding world, thereby increasing productivity and efficiency.
While technology giants and OEMs have been leading the charge, in recent years, we see few operators in developed markets starting to make the most of this technology. For instance, Telefonica launched Wayra, a start-up incubator currently supporting eight VR and four AR start-ups. SK Telecom has developed 360-degree VR live broadcasting capabilities and BT is trying to revolutionize the sports experience through VR-enabled football match telecasts. But how exactly can Telcos leverage AR/VR to improve their operational efficiency?
Applications of AR/ VR in Telecom to Address Operational Challenges
New technologies have assisted Telcos in enhancing operational excellence, starting right from network inspection/maintenance, workforce training, inventory management to warehouse operations. I believe that Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) indeed have the potential to bring about incredible advances. Let’s review some of the key use cases of AR and VR
Network inspection and maintenance
Challenge: According to statistics, “field technicians need to do at least one follow-up visit for about 23% of all service calls.” These repeated visits affect the cost, asset availability, and in some cases, response time. Moreover, making most of the available resources, there lies a concern of safety and liability for workers visiting hazardous locations.
Reorganizing inspections by replacing a pen-and-paper checklist with a voice-based system is one use case where augmented reality can enhance a technician’s ability to perform maintenance routines. By deploying an augmented reality-based solution, high cost and time can be reduced noticeably, as an expert (instead of having to travel to the location) can now just connect to the equipment remotely. Field service often requires experts to travel to remote worksites, but telepresence enabled by AR means a single expert can service multiple sites without ever having to leave the office.
For instance, Netherland’sKPN has led the way in making wearable tech part of their larger service upgrade, to meet the needs of its field technicians, and helped create a fully connected and hands-free process. Their AR/VR-based applications and devices pull work orders from the KPN queue and send them to smart glasses for the appropriate technician. On location, it uses Bluetooth beacons to guide the technician to the equipment needing repair. It also consists of instructions, schematics, and help videos, live data feeds of network diagnostics, etc. By implementing this, KPN has achieved an 11% lower operational cost and a 17% improved work error rate.
Challenge: Providing training to technicians could be expensive for cross-location employees.
Learning and development processes are essential for any company. All telecom players need to train their workforce in various areas, such as training around the vitals of diesel generators, or training around hazardous radiations, and the levels at which they must be continuously controlled to ensure quality and consistency in their day-to-day operations. However, delivering training courses across locations and teams is expensive and time-consuming. AR/VR-based training brings a revolutionary transformation in the way training is delivered. Upskilling on-demand, enabling workers to perform tasks that may go well beyond their nonaugmented skillset, means reduced training time and increased first-time fix rate. The role of immersive training becomes even more important for telecom players as it provides a more active and practical way of learning without impacting real network and production scenarios.
Inventory management and smart warehouses
Challenge: The visibility of supply chain management in terms of the equipment available at warehouses and sites. The challenge will only increase when 5G comes into play since the number of sites will skyrocket.
Inventory management is one of the extremely important aspects of the entire telecom value chain, right from equipment manufacturing to its final delivery. Reality technologies can engineer a paradigm shift in inventory management and supply chain operations. For example, AR can be used for end-to-end visibility of the inventory, which can help avoid overstocking or understocking, prompt real-time order placement anytime, at any stage of the supply chain, hands-free operations inside the warehouse, with workers wearing smart glass for pick and ship operations.
Early actions set the foundation. I believe that telecom operators have a fundamental role in enabling the early materialization of AR and VR. AR/VR brings enormous new business opportunities for all players in the ecosystem, but it is equally instrumental in accelerating the efficiency and productivity of handling telecom operations.
AR and VR have the power to transform Telecoms’ operations and digital ecosystem exponentially. This is evident with the extensive investments made by the leading OEMs, device vendors and operators in the AR/VR space. To name a few, Qualcomm is expanding their Extended Reality (XR) efforts with telecom partnerships including Sprint, Telstra, SK Telecom, LG U+, and Swisscom, Verizon is partnering with reality glasses player ThirdEye Gen, Magic Leap got impressive funding of US$280 million from Japanese telco NTT DoCoMo, etc. Hence, in my opinion, Telcos need to be on their toes, reap the benefits of AR/VR applications, and lead the way in materializing it.