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5G and gaming: Spotlight on virtual reality

Tue 3 Dec 2019 | Troels Ringsted

We will probably not all be wearing AR glasses tomorrow or spending all of our time in virtual realities, but we may not be too far away

There is no doubt 5G has the potential to revolutionise the way we interact with the physical and virtual world. Yet, guesstimates of how much of a generational shift in technology it will become range from “super-fast internet at some point” to “minority report-like daily lives.” But for gaming technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR), it’s clear that 5G rollout will be a catalyst in mainstream adoption.

Starting with what is usually hyped, we can look at the speeds of 5G. We can probably expect somewhere around 300-1000 Mb/s in the beginning, but there have been tests showcasing speeds towards 25Gb/s in specific environments.  For example, in Mitsubishi Electric and NTT DOCOMO’s 5G Outdoor Trials. In these conditions, it would be about 250 times faster than the average speed of 4G. If we equate this to Usain Bolt’s top sprinting speed (about 44km/h), it means 5G would make a person run at 11,180 km/h, or as fast as the fastest unmanned plane in the world, the Hypersonic aircraft X-43A.

5G: An industry gamechanger

Everyone knows how frustrating slow internet can be, but we are already streaming the likes of video and gaming channels on our current networks; so, what’s the big deal? Any gamer worth his or her salt knows the issue is not only about the outright speed of their connection but also the latency and stability of the connection. In the context of gaming technologies such as VR, this can make the difference between a realistic and exhilarating gaming experience, and a sub-par one.

What makes 5G really revolutionary is the reduced latency. The stability and low latency will come from utilising short-range frequencies, as well as advancements within both hardware and software. In addition, an expansion of the network will ensure that both dense population areas, as well as rural locations, will see stable, fast connections.

Latency is expected to be below 5 ms, which is a 10-fold improvement to that of 4G. This makes network latency virtually non-existent and is why everyone can dream about remote surgery, automated vehicles, smart cities, and much more. However, for gaming specifically, cloud computing, multiplayer mobile gaming, VR and AR (Augmented Reality), interactive streaming are more exciting examples.

VR, AR, MR (Mixed Reality), and XR (Extended Reality)

VR, AR, MR and XR are industries all set to grow massively in the coming years, with forecasts for 2023 eclipsing 160 billion U.S. dollars. Nevertheless, there is a plateau that the technology will reach without a mobile, fast and stable network connection. 5G will give new realities the mobility they need and could leave us with cheaper, lighter, ‘new reality’ hardware in our daily lives which are open to the general public.

The major benefits of 5G to VR, as well as other industries, is that connectivity will be more secure and stable. At present, VR and AR apps can be interrupted by network performance, which massively affects the gameplay. 5G would mean that networks can operate with, as well as process many more devices at the same time. This means that an internet connection — and therefore, the gaming experience — doesn’t suffer.

We already see the general adoption of new realities everywhere from employee training to entertainment; however, it is often infeasible for the average person to invest in the hardware due to the pricing – hopefully, this will change with 5G.

Is it actually now?

Whether 5G will be an immediate gamechanger or a gradual shift is really anyone’s guess and will depend on a lot of factors and investment from companies across a range of sectors. If we compare to the adoption of smartphones in the US population, penetration rates grew from around 20 percent in 2010 to 70 percent in 2018, which is amazingly fast. Given the rapidity of the roll-out of 5G in the US, there is an argument to claim that adoption will happen even more quickly.

We have become better at adopting new technological solutions and therefore will not struggle as much with what 5G brings – just consider how fast Netflix changed their industry once the infrastructure provided the bedrock for its streaming services. We also already have a lot of technology that is just waiting for the 5G infrastructure; these things combined could leave us all with 5G capabilities sooner than expected.

We will probably not all be wearing AR glasses tomorrow or spending all our time in virtual realities, but we may not be too far away from this reality either. The question is not if we will live in that world, but when, and it’s likely to come sooner than you might think.

Experts featured:

Troels Ringsted

Sr. Research Manager, Ryot Nordics & Netherlands
Verizon Media


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