Augmented and Virtual Reality Promise a Market Revolution, but Not without a 5G Backbone

Feb. 1, 2017, 11:09 a.m.
Malik Saadi , Managing Director and Vice President, Strategic Technology Dimitris Mavrakis, Research Director Eric Abbruzzese, Principal Analyst

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It is well understood that the continued growth of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will have a far-reaching impact on a number of markets. However, to support this far-reaching impact requires a capable connectivity backbone. A massive bandwidth requirement for premium content experiences combined with ubiquitous all-day device usage will bring about an unprecedented network strain, unable to be fully supported with current network infrastructure. The introduction of 5G, and its continued development over the next decade, will allow mobile AR and VR to reach their full potential across industries.

The true advantage of 5G in relation to AR and VR manifests itself in three components: more capacity, lower latency, and better network uniformity. Some applications rely on one component more than another, but supporting all three simultaneously is critical to enabling all AR and VR use cases under the same network. Both AR and VR applications can be very sensitive to network performance, with any interruption having a significant negative impact on user experience, which reinforces the role of continued enhancements of mobile networks. Although current 4G networks are sufficient for some initial AR and VR applications, the introduction of 5G will strengthen existing experiences, enable novel ones, and make these experiences available for mass adoption.

Following the guidelines set by IMT-2020, 5G aims to deliver:

  • 20 Gbps peak data rate
  • 100 Mbps data rates, even at cell edges
  • 10 Mbps/m2 area capacity
  • 1 ms roundtrip over-the-air latency

This improves on current 4G capabilities with a 10X increase in throughput, 10X decrease in latency, and 100X increase in traffic capacity. Even with expected 4G improvements, those metrics will fall short when considering mass market AR and VR uptake. 5G will not only improve, but will also be a requirement for some of the most exciting AR and VR applications. When looking towards a potential 5G timeline, a few of these use cases include:

  • Automotive video streaming: with increased car-pooling and semi/fully-autonomous vehicles in the 5G timeframe, streaming AR and VR content to a moving car will present a highly mobile use case with challenges in capacity, network uniformity, network handoff, and latency.
  • Event venue upload and download: ballooning video bit rates compounded by ubiquitous device usage at a densely populated venue will exponentially increase throughput requirements. The significant amount of concurrency will push capacity and latency requirements.
  • 6 Degrees of Freedom (6DoF) video: next generation video with spatial movement will offer much more immersive experiences but will also require increased bitrates in the range of 200 Mbps to 1 Gbps. Massive bandwidth requirements will be introduced, and low latency will be required as well.
  • Remote control and tactile Internet: mission-critical low latency use cases require near-perfect network reliability and performance. Tactile internet is theorized to require under 5ms round trip latency for complete usability.

These use cases illustrate the need for improvements in capacity, latency, and network uniformity that 5G will bring at new levels of cost and energy efficiency, without which the industry will not be able to build solid AR and VR business cases. Moreover, new use cases for AR and VR will manifest as the capabilities of 5G networks actualize. ABI Research expects AR and VR to transform industries, and 5G will be crucial in making that a reality.

Understanding how AR/VR and 5G markets will interact is critical to prepare for the anticipated immense market shift. For this reason, Qualcomm and ABI Research have collaborated to produce a whitepaper on the topic: Augmented and Virtual Reality: The First Wave of 5G Killer Apps. Read the whitepaper for a more detailed view on these topics, including AR and VR use cases, 5G technologies, market data, content differences, and more.