One of the great challenges facing every virtual reality agency is satisfying consumers’ high expectations of futuristic technologies. Virtual reality users expect breathtaking, immersive experiences that transport them to alternate worlds and, unfortunately, the technology that currently powers VR – and, to a slightly lesser extent, AR – hasn’t fully caught up with the platform’s potential.
Help is on the way, though. Alongside a promising crop of upcoming VR headsets and the imminent arrival of AR-enabled smart glasses, fifth generation wireless systems – 5G – will revolutionize virtual and augmented reality experiences. 5G is a significant step in the evolution of wireless technology that promises to drastically improve connectivity, reliability, and speed for billions of users.
“With 3G, it took a day to download an HD movie,” said Skyworks CEO Liam Griffin, according to Forbes. “LTE networks, available now, slashed the time to minutes. A 5G network would reduce the wait time to seconds.”
Speaking to the CBC, IDC communications analyst Lawrence Surtees called the move from 4G to 5G wireless “a quantum leap.”
5G has the potential to drastically reshape many industries, but from the perspective of a virtual reality agency like VusionVR, its most exciting benefit will be much-improved VR user experiences. The breakneck speeds and wide reach of 5G networks will limit buffering requirements, eliminate lag, enable more uniform experiences, and expand VR’s user base.
As the networks become more sophisticated, 5G will make it possible for VR companies to create environments that allow six degrees of freedom (DoF), an important step on the road to complete immersion.
Today’s VR and 360° video experiences allow users three degrees of freedom: they can look up or down, look side to side, or turn their heads to rotate their view. Six DoF experiences will allow users to shift their heads up and down, to the left or the right, and backwards and forwards. The image below, which is taken from a presentation at a Facebook developer conference in April 2017, illustrates the movements that are available in today’s experiences (top row) and the ones that require six DoF (bottom row).
From an augmented reality standpoint, 5G is less about improving existing experiences and more about enabling the technology’s evolution. Current AR applications, from gaming to facial filters to wayfinding, are relatively simple and don’t require enormous bandwidth. But if AR is to become a minute-to-minute part of everyday life via smart glasses and other wearables, as some experts have suggested, 5G networks that can serve up to a million connections per square kilometre will be vital.
So, how far away are these miraculous wireless networks? In its latest Mobility Report, Swedish networking and telecommunications company Ericsson predicted that approximately 20 per cent of the global population will be covered by 5G by 2023, starting with customers in world’s most advanced population centres. The first commercial networks are expected to go live in next year.
Canada wants to be at the forefront of the 5G wave. Last month, the federal, Ontario, and Quebec governments announced a $200-million investment in 5G wireless technology research. Several major tech companies, including Ericsson, will contribute an additional $200-million. The project – named ENCQOR, or the Evolution of Networked Services through a Corridor in Quebec and Ontario for Research and Innovation – seeks to establish a network of linked research facilities that Canadian and international companies will use to test 5G products and services.
Canadian investment in 5G technology is great news for every augmented and virtual reality agency in Canada, and for the nation’s business community in general. As wireless internet connections become stronger and faster, it will be up to VR production groups to create content that lives up to consumers expectations.