Virtual reality is coming to the ASX, but should you invest?
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3D software developer Strata is plotting to be the first ASX virtual reality float — and there are a number of existing local stocks with exposure to the technology.
But will virtual reality become an important tech theme? Or is it a flash in the pan?
Virtual reality, often grouped with augmented reality, refers to a range of technology that uses headsets and sometimes physical spaces to display a virtual but highly realistic environment. Think Google’s Cardboard VR headset or the much-famed Oculus Rift.
VR first developed in the gaming and entertainment industries, but it is developing a wide range of applications in pretty much every sector you can think of.
Global research is united in recognising that virtual reality is going to be huge. Some have even dubbed it part of a fourth industrial revolution (after steam, electricity and IT).
In a coming-of-age moment for the sector, Facebook bought VR headset manufacturer Oculus in 2014 for $US2 billion. Since then, the sector has battled to gain mainstream adoption, but the tipping point is imminent.
The application of the technology is evolving from gaming to widespread enterprise uses, says Ann Nolan, the founder of Melbourne VR consultancy Snobal.
“It’s only recently that there’s really been a clear, concerted effort looking at its application in enterprise and business as a whole,” Nolan says.
“That will accelerate the pace of adoption and the understanding of the business value.”
Last year nearly 100 million VR units shipped worldwide. While most of these were the cheap, cardboard version, it shows strong global interest that may act as a gateway to more advanced devices.
By 2020 there are expected to be 3.3 million VR devices in Australia estimates consultancy Telsyte. The global market could be $US2 trillion by 2035, a Citi report estimated.
“The Australian virtual reality ecosystem is quite strong given that it is so isolated — startups are doing amazing things here,” Nolan says.
US developer Strata is one of many companies taking virtual reality into new spaces, offering 3D modelling software in virtual reality to global brands like Apple and McDonalds.
The firm has been plotting an ASX listing and initial public offer worth up to $15 million since 2016.
If successful, Strata will be the first virtual reality pure play to list on the Australian market.
But there are a number of existing small-to-mid-cap ASX companies in the space.
Yoner and Beyond partly own Beyond Media, which offers advanced VR and content platforms.
E-learning video platform Velpic launched its own virtual reality application in March, with a new training offering utilising the technology. This is a major area of growth and opportunity, with virtual reality presenting opportunities to train in realistic environments. Everyone from police to sports stars are using the technology.
In May, GoConnect announced that Go Green, which it owns 45 percent of, had entered into a strategic partnership with an Indian ad agency to form Go VR Media Ltd. The company will have an exclusive licence to VR advertising delivery technology created by the company in Australia, New Zealand and China.
There’s a big appetite for virtual reality technology among a vast range of Australia businesses of all shapes and sizes.
“Virtual reality in itself will enrich and enhance current business processes and systems and ways of doing things,” Nolan says.
“Through that, new industries and new markets will be created. Its growth and transformation is leading to new markets and new businesses.”
It might be a while until we have lots of specifically VR-focused companies listed on the ASX, but this industry definitely isn’t going away — and in fact should offer significant growth.