AR/VR Connectivity: Technologies and Use Cases

While up to this point, consumers and enterprises haven’t been too concerned about Augmented Reality (AR)/(Virtual Reality (VR) connectivity, this will soon change for many users. But that's all changing as AR/VR applications become far more complex.

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Market Overview

  • As Augmented Reality (AR)/(Virtual Reality (VR) use cases expand and tailored solutions become more in demand, mobility and network competencies will become crucial for end users.
  • 5G, edge computing, and the metaverse are among a few technologies worthy of closer scrutiny in AR/VR applications and will challenge existing networks.
  • Right now, forecasts are minimal as much of the attraction for new XR connectivity will develop in the next few years. Moreover, depending on the region, macroeconomic challenges can have a minimal to severe impact on investment and consumer spending.
  • 5G radio is virtually non-existent in current HMD shipments and that trend will continue for a few more years.
  • By 2025, 5G-Advanced will begin to penetrate the XR market; ABI Research projects fewer than a million AR/VR devices will ship with 5G-Advanced positioning or Reduced Capability (RedCap) that year. However, 2026 will see 5.4 million VR devices ship with 5G-Advanced positioning, compared to 745,000 AR devices.
  • The year 2027 will be the first one when 5G-Advanced RedCap will reach millions of shipments, with 2.7 million AR devices shipping with RedCap by the end of that year. RedCap is rare in VR applications.
  • By 2030, it’s anticipated that 77.5 million XR devices shipping that year will feature 5G-Advanced connectivity features.
  • Wi-Fi will still be the most common network connectivity for HMDs, as Wi-Fi is good enough for most use cases. A significant number of devices will support both Wi-Fi and cellular throughout the 2022 to 2030 forecast window.
  • The percentage of XR devices using a cellular connection will be similar for both AR and VR through the end of the decade—reaching 25% each by 2027 and 35% and 34%, respectively, by 2030.
  • The growth of AR/VR devices will increase steadily alongside immersive collaboration, which necessitates the adoption of XR devices and strong 5G connectivity. For example, by 2027, the number of immersive collaboration users and the enterprise AR/VR installed base will both hover around the 80 million mark.

“The role of 5G and broader connectivity becomes less foundational to AR/VR and more synergistic—one benefits from the other and they advance alongside each other, but not purely because of the other.”  - Eric Abbruzzese, Director at ABI Research


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Key Decision Items

Understand Where 5G Shines for AR/VR

Originally, 5G was proclaimed to be a crucial technology for the future of AR and VR, but that vision never panned out. Besides battery capacity issues and an unimpressive presence of 5G natively supported AR/VR devices, many AR/VR use cases, such as remote assistance, are simply more than fine with a Wi-Fi network. Besides, even when Wi-Fi isn’t a possibility, a cellular network can be leveraged through other devices via a hotspot or workstation. While this paints a grim picture for 5G in AR and VR, the future looks brighter as adoption will see significant growth—naturally bringing about a closer hardware-5G connectivity relationship in the AR/VR space.

There are still some common applications for 5G in AR/VR today, such as the following scenarios:

  • If someone is using a Standalone (SA) AR device and may be outside Wi-Fi range or regularly enters and leaves the network.
  • When a worker is “out in the field” and needs to rely on a public cellular network to carry out tasks (e.g., maintenance on a wind turbine).
  • Where low latency is a determining factor. While Wi-Fi usually wins out against cellular in terms of latency, with the help of edge streaming and computing, 5G can close the gap.

Decide Which AR/VR Applications Could Use Edge Compute

The idea of offloading compute to the provider cloud or edge for AR/VR will undoubtedly gain traction, but it’s still a nascent solution, for now. Developers and integrators have a few years before locally stored and processed content will begin to start offloading more commonly, as networks become more sophisticated. This gives you time to carefully consider which use cases would benefit from edge streaming and computing the most.

Remember, edge compute is application specific. While fully fledged edge compute is about 5 to 10 years away, hybrid solutions can be explored. Look at it this way, a lot of applications simply don’t require ultra-fast processing, such as various types of content streaming. But other scenarios like VR gaming or employee training hinge on real-time computing and can’t afford to experience network latency fluctuations or, even worse, complete disruptions.

Prepare for Device Management to Become a More Influential Function for Enterprise AR

As enterprises increase the number of devices, users, device types, and content they use in day-to-day operations, expect AR device management to play a more integral role going forward. To put it simply, proper device management certifies that content is where it needs to be, when it is needed, and updates are applied correctly. Inadequate device management, in the context of AR applications, leads to diminished deployment flexibility, hindered productivity, and can even give rise to security issues if updates/support are not provided in a timely manner.

Imagine, for example, an AR device being deemed inoperable for a day because it didn’t receive an update. Time is money and operational downtime must be avoided at all costs for enterprises to realize maximum device longevity and Return on Investment (ROI). However, a device management platform should be seen as a helping hand in abstracting the most value from an ever-connected work environment. Lastly, a streamlined device management platform can also exhibit to users how an AR device will blend with existing workflows.

Deliver the Goods for the Metaverse and Immersive Collaboration

While not a match for every organization and worker, enterprises acknowledge the value of immersive collaboration (e.g., virtual offices and Three-Dimensional (3D) workflows via XR). A lot of the excitement behind immersive platforms stems from the buildup to the metaverse and the broader future of 3D virtually rendered environments. Many companies will turn to solutions that keep remote workflows smooth and lifelike using XR devices, while upskilling/training workers in innovative ways.

AR/VR device functionality with the metaverse will be a basic expectation from users, regardless of use case and device type. To make this possible, AR/VR devices must run on versatile networks that provide strong coverage for myriad content and device types. Moreover, the network must account for parallel user support, smooth network handoff/uniformity, and multi-user mobile applications. While local storage may suffice for some applications like training content, many others are highly compute-sensitive and will require the necessary bandwidth capabilities.

Whereas local storage will suffice for many training content use cases, more complex scenarios, namely variable experiences (e.g., dynamic workflows), will need a connection. Immersive collaboration applications will be conducted in real time in nearly every scenario. In addition to HMDs for movement and interaction in the 3D rendered environment, these highly compute-sensitive content applications need advanced networks that can handle a significant level of bandwidth and low latency, much like cloud gaming.

Key Market Players to Watch

Dig Deeper for the Full Picture

Understand the synergy between connectivity, such as 5G, the cloud, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, and AR/VR applications by downloading ABI Research’s AR/VR Connectivity research report.

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This content is part of the company’s Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality Research Service.

A research report that delves into connectivity technologies for Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR).