5G will open Cloud XR to the mass market – if we work together

Extended Reality, or XR – the spectrum of technologies including augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), simulated reality (SR) and others – will deliver strikingly engaging visuals across a wide range of digital uses, in ways most people have never experienced.  The gaming industry, in particular, stands on the verge of being truly revolutionised – but for now, XR gaming is not widely available to consumers.  At present users generally require expensive hardware, connected by wires to a head-mounted display unit, as the demands XR applications make on processing power and data storage preclude all but the most high-end gaming PCs and consoles.  Global penetration has so far, therefore, proved relatively limited.

The mobile industry can change that, and bring these experiences to the mass market – by working together, as 5G is rolled out, to converge it with the Cloud.  XR gaming will genuinely become mainstream when this happens at scale: the low latency and high bandwidth of 5G networks will deliver XR’s ultra-high resolution 4K or 8K visuals at an appropriate frame rate, and Edge Cloud technology will allow gaming servers to be easily deployed near users as a matter of course.  This can only happen with a common approach, though, and industry-wide collaboration to avoid market fragmentation. It is critical, for instance, that operators work together to ensure businesses offering XR products can reach all consumers in a market, regardless of their mobile network.

The commercial significance of this formed the core of discussions at our latest seminar on the subject, the <a href=”https://www.gsma.com/futurenetworks/5g/mwc19-shanghai-5g-cloud-xr-summit-speakers-presentations/”>5G Cloud XR Summit</a> last month at MWC19 Shanghai.  This session brought together some key industry figures upon whose collaborative efforts are vital for the success of these technologies. It was the latest in a series kicked off at the GSMA’s Cloud AR/VR Forum last November, intending to accelerate delivery and adoption of 5G Cloud-based AR and VR technologies. The GSMA is working with leading operators and their partners to foster many such events globally, and the <a href=”https://www.gsma.com/futurenetworks/technology/understanding-5g/cloud-ar-vr/”>GSMA 5G Cloud XR</a> project has been established to harmonise requirements and implementations among ecosystem players. The GSMA is also working on an API which it aims to deliver by the next MWC in Barcelona.

The commercial potential in XR for the mobile industry is significant and varied. Operators can engage along the whole value chain, most importantly as providers of 5G’s low-latency connectivity and by providing infrastructure close to the user, but also as content aggregators and discovery platforms, as they look beyond their traditional commercial horizons as the provider of connectivity. Opportunities exist, too, higher up in the value chain, for example, in Cloud game streaming, or as providers of integrated managed services, such as XR training for enterprises.

XR will help stimulate substantial growth in the gaming industry over the coming years.  The seminar in Shanghai considered projections from Newzoo that the industry as a whole will be worth more than $180 billion in 2021 (up from $151.9 billion today), with mobile gaming increasing proportionally from 51% to 59% over the same period.  Indeed 70% of the 20 million people registered with Gloud, China’s largest Cloud gaming platform, are mobile users.  Moreover, it seems inevitable, explained Gloud’s CEO Hexiang Zhang to the session, that gaming will join other forms of entertainment as streaming-first when networks can cope with the demands. Not long-ago downloading files was the norm, Spotify now sees 90% of its music streamed, and Netflix 75% of its videos.

Over the course of the coming year, 5G’s integration with the Cloud makes widespread ‘thin client’ gaming possible – whereby the burden of processing and storage is no longer placed on the user’s hardware device. XR gaming will become vastly more accessible, as gamers will be able to enjoy these experiences without the need for wires, and on much less sophisticated devices.  5G’s arrival is what Gloud’s Mr Zhang called the “tipping point” – and as Qualcomm’s Head of XR Hugo Swart put it, 2019 is the year of 5G, with launches in regions across the globe.  That rollout is happening faster than 4G did – more than 20 operators have announced launches in Year 1, Mr Swart pointed out, compared to only 4 under 4G.

As China Mobile’s Chief Scientist for Wireless Technologies Dr Chih-Lin I reminded us, though, XR is not all about gaming – the applications extend across engineering, education, healthcare, smart home management and much more.  The ability, for instance, to simulate highly complex scenarios like surgery or instalment of heavy machinery will allow potentially dangerous or expensive procedures to be practised in theory before being carried out in reality. DGene’s Chief Scientist for Wireless Technologies, Professor Jingyi Yu, showed us some incredibly detailed digital imaging of a human being, right down to the texture of skin and hair, through the Cloud-based holographic platform Holo4D, as well as simulated operations in construction.

Industry collaboration in this area was clear to see at the recent 5G Ecosystem Summit, hosted by <a href=”https://www.telekom.com/en”>Deutsche Telekom</a> in Berlin. During the event, they showcased 18 leading XR start-ups, all of whom have been mentored and given access to 5G test environments through Deutsche Telekom’s Tech incubator, hubraum. One of the most compelling pitches (as voted for by the audience), came from <a href=”https://www.forwardgamear.com/”>forwARdgame</a>, who also showcased their cloud-based AR basketball game during MWC Shanghai. On collaboration with the operator ecosystem, their CEO Tim Friedland said, “Augmented Reality technology is going to change the world of gaming. We believe that games will be played where all the games start — the real world. And in order to benefit from both worlds, to bridge between the physical and virtual the gaming experiences need to feel as real as possible — stable, persistent and perfectly synchronized between multiple users. With 5G technology, we can deliver that. ”

Senior Vice President of 5G at Deutsche Telekom, Alexander Lautz, explained that “we believe Cloud AR, VR and MR (Mixed Reality) are among the most tangible use cases for a really exciting 5G experience. It’s important, therefore, for Deutsche Telekom and MobiledgeX that we work closely with our partners in the ecosystem, give them access to our infrastructure, and show what is possible with 5G Cloud XR on the way to delivering superior products and services for our customers.”

It’s been hugely gratifying to see such widespread recognition of this need for cooperation among leading players, to realise the incredible potential of XR in the 5G age – to stay up to date on the latest news and events in this area, sign up for the Future Networks Newsletter <a href=”https://www.gsma.com/futurenetworks/resources/newsletter/”>here</a>.