Operators to Play Key Role in Delivery of Next Generation Virtual Reality through 5G

Among the most hotly anticipated developments of the digital age has been virtual reality, and its close relative augmented reality – known collectively as AR/VR.  These transformative technologies are set to revolutionise the ways in which consumers interact with enterprise, as well as the entertainment uses for which they are perhaps better known. The ability to offer users an interactive digital world which wholly envelops them is easier said than done from a technical point of view, however.  AR/VR currently requires vast amounts of storage, power consumption and processing power from the devices on which it runs; this makes those devices expensive and limits their portability, raising doubts over the degree to which AR/VR can at present be brought to the mass market.

Thankfully, operators may soon be in a position to change this for the better.  As computing and data increasingly migrate to Cloud, AR/VR can follow – with graphic rendering and storage processed remotely – thereby taking much of the technical strain away from the end-user’s device, as it need only receive preformulated video streams.  This is known as a ‘thin client’ model – the receiving device can now be light and far less costly, requiring much lower processing power and energy consumption. The prospects for mass market consumption, therefore, become much brighter, to the benefit of all concerned.

There remains however one last challenge to be resolved – connectivity.  Very wide data bandwidths are required, as are superfast data connections.  In order for AR/VR to deliver a good user experience, these video streams must be ultra-high resolution – 4k or 8k – and interactions between end users and servers must be subject to very low latency. This is where 5G comes in.  5G is more than equal to the task of providing these capabilities through Edge Computing – and, once that platform is established, its use can then be extended to other low latency services such IoT as proximity video.

For this reason players from across the ecosystem gathered during Mobile World Congress Shanghai last month to discuss 5G’s role in the delivery of AR/VR and how operators can help.  Momentum is now growing behind the process as it becomes clear that for 5G’s power will need to be harnessed to achieve the potential in gaming, 360 streaming, and Industry 4.0. Huawei’s President of Product and Solution David Wang advised that, given the urgency to demonstrate how operators can make good on their investments in 5G, work should proceed immediately to achieve clarity on commercialisation.

“Cloud AR/VR, as its name suggests, uses Cloud-based GPU rendering instead of a local PC,” Mr Wang told delegates in Shanghai. “The transformation in architecture helps to construct a new ecosystem and business model: thin clients, broad pipes, and Cloud apps. In future, users will pay less for computing capabilities on local terminals, and instead purchase Cloud resources and services, network bandwidth, and guaranteed low latency from operators and providers based on ‘pay as you use’. The business model applies not only to Cloud AR/VR but also ‘Cloud X’ scenarios, which include Cloud PC and Cloud gaming. It will generate new revenue sources for operators, benefiting the entire industry.”  Mr Wang went on to explain how the technical demands of Cloud AR/VR make it a natural beneficiary of 5G’s arrival:  “Cloud AR/VR calls for both a 100mbps data rate to support 2K HD videos, and 5-8 ms to avoid dizziness. Such demands are perfectly in line with the features of eMBB services during initial 5G deployment; Huawei, therefore, believes that Cloud AR/VR will arise as the most typical 5G eMBB use case.”

Content partners Noitom – whose expertise in AR/VR extends from digital marketing, automotive, education and entertainment – were clear that 5G is the only mechanism by which “to replicate human sensory perception – otherwise the user just feels uncomfortable.” Noitom went on to explain that 5G has the technological heft to reduce cost, simplify deployment, reduce training, and improve the end user experience overall.

The course has not yet been charted, however. Work is still needed to achieve clarity on how operators can best monetise this opportunity – for instance key use cases, how the value chain will operate, and potential business models. There in now a project group set up for this purpose, which will report back in November of this year. The GSMA will release a white paper next year on behalf of the mobile industry to outline the options available to operators as they consider how to contribute. Senior Director at the GSMA’s future networks programme Henry Calvert urged industry delegates in Shanghai to collaborate to make the most of this next stage in the process: “5G can facilitate an explosion in user experiences – but we need a common approach to provide scale and drive value.” We eagerly await the economic blueprint for the marriage of these transformative technologies, and are encouraged by the collaborative approach shown in these early stages.

If you are interested in learning more about Cloud AR/VR, please register your interested in attending the Cloud AR/VR Roundtable which will take place during Mobile World Congress Americas 2018 on 13 September. Click here to find out more and to register your place.