Telefonica, the major global mobile phone network provider and owner of the UK’s O2 mobile network, has announced that it is to invest heavily in augmented reality (AR) technology via a proposed partnership with specialist AR provider, Aurasma.

Under the arrangement, AR – which draws on internet signals to help printed material such as posters seemingly appear to ‘come to life’ and is most often used to enhance promotional advertising campaigns – could become accessible to around 300 million mobile users across the globe.

Through its links with the web, AR has also been shown to help foster immediate online purchasing among consumers. This has been the case recently with the music industry using AR to provide access to concert footage, helping to generate payments for audio downloads.

Commenting on the move, Telefonica Digital’s global director of advertising, Shaun Gregory, said:

“Augmented reality has the potential to fundamentally change advertising, transforming current static formats and introducing new levels of interactivity.”

The worldwide market for AR has been predicted to grow to $699bn by 2016 – with an anticipated 864m AR-enabled mobile devices expected to be in operation by 2014.

Telefonica’s move into the AR field is arguably the most significant indicator to date of the likely importance of AR to the future of mobile marketing and advertising.

Other reported moves afoot in this area are said to include proposed proprietary AR ventures by both Amazon and Google, together with further developments from smaller specialist players in the AR sphere – UK-based Blippar, and Layar, which is located in the Netherlands.