The infrastructure to support tomorrow’s (virtual) reality

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Interxion’s Bryan Hill explains why tomorrow’s highly connected devices will require those in the digital media sector to take a closer look at their IT infrastructure.

As Mark Zuckerberg recently said on his $2 billion purchase of virtual-reality company Oculus VR, “Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones. The future is coming and we have a chance to build it together.”

The experiential possibilities beyond gaming are wonderful, especially for live events. The commercial possibilities tantalising – think about FIFA or the NFL selling millions of World Cup Final and Super Bowl tickets, personalised advertising in the stadium, sharing the experience with friends around the globe. Immersive technologies can, and likely will, change the landscape for TV, film, sports and many other types of experiences. It’s not just virtual reality. Conversations today are filled with talk of 4k (or even jumping straight to 8k) for TV, flexible screens (so your eye distance to screen is more constant) and Google Glass. The opportunities are vast and the technologies are booming.

After attending GDC in San Francisco last month and Mark’s latest purchase – I got to thinking about the impact that our new ‘virtual reality’ driven future will have on the way we consume content and possibly more importantly, whether we’ll have the infrastructure and connectivity requirements in place to support this.

While connectivity is not a glamorous topic (unlike that of the devices, the games or the content) it underpins the future of these digital experiences. Ultimately it doesn’t matter how good the device or the content is, the quality of the experience will come down to the degree of connectivity we receive from our own homes and devices.

Earlier this year Dan Rayburn, principal analyst at Frost & Sullivan and executive vice president of StreamingMedia.com, noted that a big stumbling block to widespread viewing of 4K content is bandwidth costs to stream the programming. He further discussed that while at CES, Netflix Inc., Amazon and Comcast said the bit rates they plan to use to deliver 4K content using the latest video compression technology will range from 12 Mbps to 20 Mbps. The typical Netflix video stream's bit rate is 2.2 Mbps, which means delivering 4K through broadband could cost as much as 10x that of HD. The questions businesses are asking themselves is whether they can 1) afford it (and make it profitable) and 2) if the infrastructure and connectivity requirements are sufficient.

For businesses globally this means one thing – connectivity and latency are, today, more important than they’ve ever been.  Everyone is looking for the ‘always on, always connected’ experience in everything they do – something that, while exciting and life changing, is creating quite a stir around congestion on the infrastructure. Of course, improvements in technology are happening all the time, from capture to compression to distribution e.g. HEVC encoding. However, our expectations as consumers are accelerating too. In 1994 I was complaining about my 14400 modem and now I’m complaining about my 40mb fibre. As we continue to harness increasingly life changing technologies to instantly connect with the world around us, we’re faced with evolving infrastructure issues which need to be addressed if we’re going to continue to successfully innovate and adapt to the demands of today’s digital age.

With the expansion of immersive experience technology and growth of streaming video, along with many other digitally-driven experiences, it’s time for business and IT decision makers to sit down and talk more about:

  • What kind of infrastructure is needed to support this increased digitisation and what’s the cost – financially and in opportunity?
  • What changes need to be made to support greater network connectivity by content providers, content distributors, CDNs, carriers and data centres?
  • As consumers, how do we expect to use technology in the home? What are we willing to pay for and how much?


While my vision of sharing with my friends the experience of watching Tottenham Hotspur FC win the Champions League in virtual reality may forever be a pipe dream (for much more than IT reasons..), I remain ever hopeful. The true digital future is here – it’s time for companies in the infrastructure space to help these businesses bring the best digital experiences