VR All Business in Barcelona as Zuckerberg Touts Virtual Meetups

Opening Day Of The Mobile World Congress

A delegate tries on a Samsung Gear VR headset at Mobile World Congress.

Photographer: Pau Barrena/Bloomberg
  • Tour FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium before you book tickets
  • AT&T staff use VR to simulate response to hacker attacks

Much of the buzz in virtual reality has been about gaming and entertainment, but this week at Europe’s biggest tech conference Facebook Inc.’s Mark Zuckerberg and Vodafone Group Plc chief Vittorio Colao are promoting less obvious applications for immersive gear -- education, security and tourism.

Zuckerberg made a surprise appearance at Samsung Electronics Co.’s unveiling of a new 360-degree VR camera in Barcelona to talk about how it could create new ways of communicating. Facebook said a day before on a blog it has set up a “social virtual reality team” to explore the future of today’s video-conferencing and chatting. Someone at a desk in say Kalamazoo, Michigan, can meet with colleagues from Finland at an entirely different location, perhaps on top of Rio’s Sugarloaf Mountain.


Special Report: Mobile World Congress 2016

View our full coverage of this year's Mobile World Congress.


“Imagine holding a group meeting or event anywhere in the world," Zuckerberg said. "Right now, virtual reality is mostly used for games and entertainment, but that’s quickly evolving. One day you’ll be able to put on a headset that’ll change the way you live, work and communicate."

Training at companies will cost a lot less when people can do it from behind their virtual-reality headset, Vodafone Chief Executive OfficerColao said during the conference’s opening keynote. Education more broadly could benefit from these new tools, he said.

“Clearly, virtual reality is going to be the most immersive experience for consumers,” Colao said. “It’ll be used for entertainment and gaming of course, but most importantly training.”

AT&T Inc. is already helping its security staff experience hacking in an entirely new way: by putting them behind a VR headset. The carrier has built a gaming environment -- a version of which can be tested at the conference -- that simulates attacks on its network, so employees can playfully learn what can happen and how to best respond.

"It’s an extraordinary way to explore attack scenarios that are more advanced,” said the company’s chief strategy officer, John Donovan.“It creates an environment you couldn’t at a table in a conference room.”

Spain’s Catalonia region has set up a VR chair at its booth to boost tourism. Conference-goers can buckle-up in a moving leather chair, strap on a headset and explore footage of Catalonian experiences filmed with GoPro Inc. cameras, including a tour of FC Barcelona’s 99,000-capacity Camp Nou soccer stadium.

Instead of Leaflets

"Instead of handing them leaflets, we give them the real experiences,” said Ferran Macia of the Catalan Tourist Board. "We have proof that if travel agencies use VR, sales actually increase.”

You may have heard about robotic surgery, but so far, the technology isn’t really virtual because in most instances, the doctor steering the thing usually sits right there or, at best, in the next room. Deutsche Telekom AGis convinced that once super-fast 5G mobile networks are commercially available, reduced latency will enable the best doctors to operate patients that are half a world away.

And there are many more potential use cases, said CEO Tim Hoettges. “Think about the architect, think about the retail store, think about fashion,” he said. “Everything could be virtualized."

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE