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Want VR? You Need Fiber

Sitting court-side at a basketball game without leaving your house; visiting a war zone in complete safety; trying extreme sports regardless of how little you exercise; these are just a few of the experiences that virtual reality makes possible. While these are exciting ways to imagine VR in social or recreational contexts, it overlooks one of the biggest potential benefits of this technology: unparalleled business value.

VR has the potential to change the game on how people work together; it could take remote conference to the next level, allowing coworkers thousands of miles apart to collaborate in a single room, skyrocketing productivity. And yet, while companies are eager to take on and start using these new VR solutions, many companies are having trouble actually using VR. But it’s not because the technology is too new, it’s because their internet is too old.

It’s often not processor speed or computing power that’s the bottleneck to your business joining the VR revolution, it’s something as prosaic and old school as the speed of your cable modem that’s holding you back.

What VR Can Offer Your Business

Any situation involving remote conferencing could be improved by VR. In typical video conferences, webcams give a single window into the room. According to Chris Savage, founder and CEO of Wistia, a business video hosting platform that supports 360 video, with VR “businesses can do more than let viewers see through the window—they can invite them inside.”

Imagine the following use-cases:

  • New Hire Onboarding: Frank’s International, an oilfield services company, uses VR to let new hires live stream offshore oil rigs. An oil rig is a dangerous environment new hires need to get familiar with, and VR makes that possible.
  • Remote Consulting: When an engineering team needs to consult with an outside expert, it usually involves face-to-product time. With VR, engineers can upload a live stream that consultants connect to instantly. Being in the room with no travel fees and no time lost is hugely beneficial to busy companies.
  • Customer Tours: Selling real estate typically requires prospective customers to physically visit the house before buying it. For people looking to buy somewhere distant, like a different country, this can be particularly challenging. Companies like Sotheby’s have addressed this by using VR to offer virtual house tours.

However, live streaming use-cases require you to have a network that can upload and download high-quality, 360-degree video in realtime. With old-school copper wire internet, your network might be able to slowly download static VR content, but it will not be able to handle any of these live stream scenarios.

Why VR Needs Fiber Optic Internet

While a slower internet connection could let you upload low-quality video for VR, you’d most likely give your team motion sickness.

In the ‘90s, the U.S. Army conducted a study [pdf] into the effects of VR simulators on viewers. At the center of their findings was that low-quality video in VR brought on “simulator sickness.”

Simulator sickness is a phenomenon that occurs when our eyes perceive us to be moving in a way our body cannot, resulting in “cue conflict.” When a piece of VR content lags or skips along at a low frame rate, it exacerbates this problem. Our eyes tell our bodies to feel jostled by the low-quality video, and our body gets confused and nauseated.

This means that if you were remote conferencing with your team in VR, and your network’s lag made video feed choppy, you’d be making your team physically ill. To keep keep your team from vomiting, you need a network connection with upload speeds that can handle high quality video.

When you consider that YouTube recommends an upload speed of 53-68 Mbps for uploading the highest quality 4k non-VR videos, that’s quite a bit of strain on your network.

Symmetrical Bandwidth Can Increase Your Upload Speed 50

With most non-fiber commercial ISPs, you’re lucky to get 20 Mbps upload speeds. At that speed, your connection would still be three times too slow to upload VR-quality video for live streaming. It also means that if you tried, you’d probably logjam your entire network.

You might, depending on your network specifics, be able to watch VR content hosted on platforms like YouTube, but you wouldn’t be capable of remote conferencing with VR.

Fortunately, many fiber optic connections offer symmetric bandwidth, meaning your upload speed is as fast your download speed. With most copper-based connections, on the other hand, you typically see a higher download and lower upload speed. Utilizing a gigabit connection over fiber, you’d have roughly 20 times the required bandwidth to upload VR content with no noticeable effect on network performance.

Why VR is the Future of Connecting Online

If you want to occasionally view VR content and don’t mind lag or nausea, copper wire internet is fine. But you can bet your competition will be upgrading. The market for virtual reality hardware and content is expected to clear $30 billion by 2020. A major factor in this growth is the emergence of social video.

It might seem odd, as videos have been hosted online for decades, but social videos are bringing some major changes. With greater bandwidth and more advanced platforms, our work lives have become more and more dependent upon video communication. Look at the growth of remote work from 2000-2010 to see this illustrated:

Joe Aki Ouya, Founder of New Ways of Working, attributes the rise of remote work, especially among young people, to the development of collaborative tools like video conferencing. Think of how many Google Hangouts or Facebook Video Calls you’ve been a part of in the last year.

As both of those companies move forward to embrace VR, with Facebook’s $2 billionpurchase of Oculus and Google’s new VR initiative, VR is well-positioned to replace current video communication systems.

Zuckerberg promised as much when he said, “We’ve recently created new teams at Facebook to build the next generation of social apps in VR.” The only question is, will you have a network capable of using them?