Stretching the Boundaries: How 5G will improve augmented and virtual reality

Virtual Reality

Of the countless technologies that will benefit from the wide-scale deployment of Verizon’s 5G network, perhaps none have more buzz than the fields of augmented and virtual reality.

Augmented reality, or AR, refers to the overlay of digital elements into our everyday environments. Imagine standing on the street wearing smart glasses and receiving navigation assistance in real time—that’s AR. Virtual reality, or VR, blocks the outside environment completely and transports the user to a fully simulated world.

Both AR and VR have practical applications in education, manufacturing, telemedicine, gaming and well beyond, and both technologies operate on a simple truth: The faster the network and the lower the latency, the better the experience. That’s why Verizon’s 5G technology will be critical to driving adoption and the development of new use cases.

How soon will AR and VR enter the mainstream?

It’s tempting to write off AR and VR as science-fiction fantasies, but they’re going to drive the reinvention of countless business and consumer applications—and it’s all closer than you might think.

Executives at Mobile World Congress Barcelona said that AR and VR will become the “interface to the internet,” and 69% of respondents for one survey believe that AR/VR will become mainstream within five years. The future—and a not-so-distant one—is immersive computing, in which technology blends seamlessly into our surroundings. As Verizon’s 5G network makes higher transfer speeds and lower network latency a reality, people can expect to stare at their screens less and interact with their environments more.

Consumers are taking note of this inevitable shift. To date, market intelligence firms have reported 12.4 million AR-VR headset shipments in 2018—a 48.5% increase from last year—and by 2022, that number could reach 69 million. In the next three years, the total AR/VR market is estimated to exceed $179 billion.

How crucial is 5G to the future of AR and VR?

Whether it’s science, medicine, employee training, advertising or entertainment, the application areas for AR/VR are virtually limitless. But all these possibilities come with a logistical complication: an exponential increase in data demands. Only a 5G network will be able to provide the necessary bandwidth and low latency for AR/VR experiences to feel seamless and, ultimately, valuable.

“Today’s VR environment only allows for a single stream of video on mobile,” says Verizon Labs’ Raheel Khalid. “We are simultaneously bringing multiple 4K and HD video streams to create a unique VR experience, all over 5G.”

Consider the challenge of syncing video playback in VR goggles with the physical movement of the wearer. Single-digit latencies ensure vivid, immersive experiences. Failing to eliminate even the slightest lag can create a jerky, unnavigable environment—not to mention a nauseous, disoriented participant.

Leading research suggests that a 5G network will bring about a 10X improvement in throughput, a 10X decrease in latency, a 100X improvement in network traffic capacity and a 100X improvement in network efficiency. These updated rates open the door to applications only dreamed about a short time ago: autonomous vehicles, virtual training, remote healthcare, innovative classroom learning and the increased connectivity of the internet of things. And that’s just the beginning.

AR/VR in action

Verizon has already begun testing and demoing AR and VR experiences powered by 5G.

But Verizon’s work in augmented and virtual reality doesn’t stop with spectator sports. Since December 2017, we’ve given innovators and thought leaders unfettered access to our pre-commercial 5G network at Alley, a curated community for creators in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.

Participants include Chalktalk, which provides interactive AR teaching tools to classrooms; the Computer Graphics and User Interfaces Laboratory at Columbia University, which is working to allow remote physical therapist-patient interaction in VR; and Arvizio, a mixed-reality visualization platform for engineering and training.

“These startups and universities are going way beyond discussions,” said Toby Redshaw, senior vice president, 5G ecosystems, innovation and product development for Verizon. “These are people getting dirt under their fingernails, building very, very cool solutions, and learning in a next-generation 5G incubator environment.”

As long as innovators push AR/VR technology to previously unimagined heights, Verizon will advance the 5G network that makes all that innovation possible.