It’s reasonable to assume that when 5G has been widely deployed, it could speed up the adoption of AR and VR and stimulate new design opportunities.
The first 5G NR (New Radio) is designed to be the global standard, based around eMBB (Enhanced Mobile Broadband), providing improved download and upload speeds, as well as lower latency than 4G. Though the specifications in 5G NR benefit media applications, for example mobile AR and VR or 4K and 360° video streaming, the bigger benefits have yet to be realised.
Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communications (URLLC), which aim for 1ms latency, are the 5G NR component standard scheduled for mid-2020 and are designed for self-driving cars/autonomous vehicles, robot-enabled remote surgery and other latency-sensitive scenarios.
Though average latencies on 5G are likely to be slightly higher than 1ms in the real world, there is nevertheless ample room for 5G URLLC to improve on latency speeds. Taking users of VR headsets as an example, motion sickness can be the result of high latencies between action and response for head movements. Overcoming this would allow AR and VR to be used more widely, and potentially for longer, before users would need a break.
Because we are still in the early stages of the deployment of 5G mobile networks, its practical use in the context of smartphones faces significant obstacles to which AR and VR applications add complexity. Not all 5G networks are equivalent, for example in Asia they rely on sub-6 GHz radio frequencies, whereas in the US most 5G networks are rely on mmWave frequencies which provide faster data speeds. However, they are line-of-sight so obstructions such as large buildings mean access will be lost if the user is moving – clearly impractical in an urban setting.
5G would certainly allow for higher flexibility of use. With 5G, the ability to use AR in outdoor environments without reliable wi-fi signals could expand the types of interactions and integrations that developers can build – in addition to the current common use on smartphones or tablets in museums, or for interior design.
So far so good, but perhaps the biggest issue for potential consumers is cost of data. Unless money is no object, attempting to deliver an AR/VR experience directly to consumers could be limited by cost. Unless mobile network operators offer unlimited service at a reasonable cost, 5G may simply be a way to use up mobile data more quickly – which won’t encourage wider adoption of VR and AR.