There are four national carriers operating in the United States of America, with the larger two carriers of AT&T and Verizon Wireless having a reputation of a stronger network compared with the two smaller operators, Sprint and T-Mobile US. The larger networks have deeper pockets and so are in a better position to afford a more expansive network. And now Verizon Wireless have a new element to their network, which has appeared in the game Minecraft – in full pixelated glory complete with real world functionality.
The project is a result of a joint venture between Verizon Wireless, coders and Minecraft superusers in order to extend their already comprehensive cellular coverage into the virtual world. Verizon's partnership is with the Wieden+Kennedy creative marketing agency and BlockWorks, Minecraft architects. And as in the real world, in order to use the Verizon Wireless network, users first need a cell tower – which is created by combining iron and red stone at a crafting tower to produce a sapling, which is converted to a cell tower by adding bone meal (the game calls in a team of in-game engineers who will build the tower for you). There are four levels to the cell tower that may be turned on using a switch at the base of the structure. However, what use is a Minecraft virtual cell tower without your very own Minecraft virtual phone? Players need to build a cell phone by combining a pane of glass with iron at a crafting table, manufacturing the phone, which may be placed anywhere in the Minecraft world. In order to obtain signal, it must be placed close to the cell tower, and be warned: the cell phone is big. Very big. Assuming the phone is placed close enough to the cell tower, a pixelated signal is shown and the device screen indicates three bars of signal. The cell phone will then power up.
The Minecraft cell phone works in a similar way to a real cell phone. There's a web browser (although as things are very pixelated, it's less than useful!), you can text, send pictures messages, make and receive video calls to anybody with a smartphone (and not just other Minecraft users). However, be aware that if you are on a video call, he or she does not see your face but instead your Minecraft avatar. You do see their image, but highly pixelated. If you combine the phone with a stick, you can create an in-game selfie-stick, which makes your giant cell phone but allows you to take avatar selfies anywhere you are in the Minecraft world. These pictures can be sent via MMS via the in-game phone.
The technology behind the virtual Verizon Wireless cell phone uses a web application called Boxel, which converts web pages and video into Minecraft blocks. There's a Boxel-client server plugin, which allows Minecraft to communicate with the outside world – and Verizon have made the Boxel code open source, so anybody can drop by the GitHub to use the code for themselves and their own applications. And because the game is allowing video calling and selfies, it gives Minecraft people less of a reason to drop out of the game. And we can expect avatar selfies of new constructions before too long. Check out the video below for a preview of the technology in action.