What 5G will do for VR/AR

In the not-to-distant future, it will be commonplace to see people wearing augmented reality (AR) glasses or virtual reality (VR) headsets, walking the streets, waiting at bus stops or sat in offices 

People using AR and VR might be accessing information on train times while on the move, holding conference calls with colleagues or playing computer games with friends in different locations around the world, all in real time.

It’s set to revolutionise the way we communicate and consume content. AR enhances a user’s view by overlaying information on what is in line of sight, while VR offers a deeper and more immersive experience altogether.

Both have numerous applications across the enterprise and entertainment fields; however, AR/VR technology will only become truly mainstream with the broad-scale adoption of 5G networks and its convergence with the cloud.

5G will free up VR from a fixed location

Currently, if you wanted to play a game using a VR headset, you would typically need a device such as a PC or a gaming console that has a large amount of storage, power consumption and processing power for it to work effectively. This means you are confined to a particular location, while the headsets remain expensive and niche.

Arrival of 5G will mean we can push these capabilities away from the PC and into something called the edge cloud, so we only require the headset. This is cloud AR/VR technology.

Critical to this is the concept known as a thin client that, while not a new technology, is the idea of a device, which typically includes a number of features, such as applications, data or memory. They are stored in the cloud or datacentre, but can be easily and readily accessible to the user.

Cloud VR/AR technology is set to be a disruptive form of immersive multimedia in a number of different ways, from changes to the delivery of new content, to the application of different services, to a diverse number of use-cases.

However, these will require an incredibly fast low-latency bandwidth data connection to deliver the ultra-high resolution 4K or 8K viewing experience that it needs, particularly when providing a continuity of service.

For 5G and VR/AR to take off, the industry must collaborate

In contrast with current technology, which typically requires content to be downloaded to a device, there will be an expectation to use these services on the move, placing pressure on the network already struggling to deal with high volumes of streaming video content.

5G is the technology that can deliver all these demands via its new network capabilities, providing a more reliable experience and ultra-low latency service through edge cloud technology.

But none of this will happen without a common approach and industry-wide collaboration that focuses on avoiding market fragmentation from the outset. To this end, we’ve been working to create a forum with multiple global mobile operators, vendors and other players in the ecosystem with the aim of encouraging all parties to collaborate on accelerating the delivery and deployment of 5G cloud-based VR/AR services.

5G is an incredible opportunity for our industry and represents a fundamental transformation of the role that mobile technology will play in society. It is a catalyst for innovation and an opportunity to create an agile, purpose-built network tailored to the different needs of citizens and the economy.

From VR headsets to sensor-driven smart parking, 5G will enable richer, smarter and more convenient living and working. It is a giant step forward in the global race to digitise economies and societies.