Mobile World Congress 2023 Shows New AR/VR and Network Partnerships and Capabilities

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By Eric Abbruzzese | 1Q 2023 | IN-6866

Mobile World Congress 2023 is ongoing, with showcases from major mobile OEMs and network service providers. XR is present at the show, albeit not a headline, with hardware and network partnerships leveraging XR as a compelling network test and demonstration.

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A Taste of XR Hardware and Network


At Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2023 in Barcelona, many of the high profile mobile hardware and network giants are present, with demonstrations and case studies across use cases. Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR and VR, respectively) are certainly present on the show floor, although certainly not at the same scale as smartphones and network equipment. There is some new Extended Reality (XR) hardware on display, such as Xiaomi’s Wireless AR Glass Discovery Edition. On the network side relating to XR, NVIDIA is present at a number of partner booths, including Fujitsu and Ericsson, leveraging CloudXR for network-powered XR demos. While XR may not be the headline at MWC, as 5G matures and the industry looks to the future of networks, XR will play more of a role.

XR as a Network Showpiece


Augmented and Virtual Reality devices are an incredible tool for stressing and showcasing a network. Cloud VR, for instance, requires ultra-low latency and high throughput in order to deliver a positive user experience. Since VR content is always “live” and interactive, even for passive video content (when the user’s head moves, the stream has to follow), round trip latency is as important as bitrate and resolution. Low latency networks can prove invaluable through streaming external data sources as well, such as Internet of Things (IoT) data in a factory or statistics for sports—keeping up with a user’s movement in XR is paramount to a good user experience.  

NVIDIA is pushing high fidelity digital twins over 5G with partner Fujitsu. They are also joining Ericsson for low latency 5G streaming using QuarkXR to deliver multi-user immersive XR content, and e-commerce with ZeroLight through a CloudXR powered car configurator experience. HTC is also pushing further into the software and services side at MWC, rolling out their VIVERSE for Business platform, focusing on enterprise collaboration. Combined with their Vive HMDs, HTC has a compelling enterprise platform into which companies can adopt, competing more closely with Meta, Microsoft, and other XR Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) that also provide service solutions.

We have seen technology marriages to networks at MWC before, perhaps most recently with cloud gaming, which has similar needs to XR in low latency and high visual fidelity. Many of the XR demos at MWC lean on low latency requirements, as well as high throughput and parallel user support. This has not been done at scale in the real world yet, as the user base is simply not there. Demonstrations are valuable, but often do not translate to reality with unpredictable variables. The only way to test with real world variables is in the real world, and only a few XR use cases have been adopted enough to show meaningful data. VR gaming and training are both proven, but mostly function fine on existing networks and using local content. True network usage and full cloud offload for XR is being discussed and researched but has not been notably rolled out.

Consumer Scale to Come


Speaking of scaling, there are valid questions around when scale will truly be seen for AR and VR. Depending on one’s viewpoint, scale could already be seen in certain areas—gaming and training, as mentioned earlier, as well as AR remote assistance are becoming more present. However, applications where network and usage environment are known and often controlled are not a concern for the network providers.

As enterprise XR hits notable scale over the next couple years, alongside greater consumer XR exposure in the same timeframe, the role of the network changes somewhat. Reliability is a significant element for XR over a network, more so than total throughput and, depending on the use case, latency as well. Augmented Reality also presents a high-mobility user that hasn’t been seen in XR before, as even for enterprise AR applications in difficult network environments, a company can plan for that network scenario as the end user and use case is known. Mass market AR usage has never existed, and no one knows how usage patterns will develop. This makes it incredibly difficult to plan for on the network side, which is why many providers at MWC have been at various Research and Development (R&D) phases with XR for years.

There is still an air of immaturity with smart glasses as they target the consumer market, similar to the first few years of enterprise smart glasses. Xiaomi’s glasses are a “Discovery Edition” and may not reach mass market. The consumer AR market is a challenge to be sure, as the hardware is nascent and there is no killer use case to chase after. VR gaming, and to a growing extent, fitness, has been a success as the differentiation and value is clear. Consumer AR does not have that yet—in fact, Apple was expected to significantly open up the market in 2024, but recent signs point to the company pivoting towards greater VR efforts rather than AR.

From the network side, this presents both opportunity and obstacle. If the users don’t adopt the hardware, then the network conversation is moot, so providers need hardware OEMs to push options and grow a user base. That being said, the longer between now and a significant user base leaves more time for R&D. Based on this years’ MWC 2023, we are on the tail end of that mostly R&D phase and moving into scale. Look for MWC 2024 to more heavily focus on XR, assuming that momentum holds through this year.



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