The next generation of connectivity (5G, WiFi 6, 802.11ay) is poised to enhance the way we interact with the current crop of devices. Extended Reality – XR (VR/AR/MR) is one such technology that will benefit from the introduction of 5G and Artificial Intelligence (AI). The present generation of XR devices requires either a smartphone or a powerful PC to deliver some level of immersive experiences. This experience sometimes is limited as the smartphone alone is not powerful enough to deliver a truly immersive experience and connecting with a PC requires it to be tethered with a wire, sometimes creating a barrier for the immersive experience. Though we are seeing standalone XR devices beginning to proliferate but most of these devices are bulky, power hungry as most of the processing is concentrated or centralized. The standalone “Mobile XR” has tremendous potential not only to interact or consumer immersive content but also to create. However, there needs to be some technical breakthroughs which can drive sleek, ultra-lightweight XR devices form-factor which can offer powerful XR experiences more efficiently.
New Technologies: 5G & AI
At the 4G/5G Summit 2018, Qualcomm showcased a concept XR technology that it has dubbed “Boundless XR”, a photorealistic Mobile XR over 5G. A 5G capable XR device with a powerful processor and augmented by edge cloud computing.
Exhibit: XR Device with 5G connectivity and augmented edge cloud infrastructure. Source: Qualcomm
- A powerful processor will enable the XR device to have on-board processing capabilities, eliminate the need for it to be tethered to a PC.
- Connectivity over 5G will provide a reliable and low latency link to the cloud infrastructure delivering high-quality content to the device.
- A third significant feature in the XR ecosystem will be the deployment of edge cloud for faster computing. The edge cloud also improves the overall network efficiency and improves the availability of content to users as and when they need it.
- High-speed connectivity and processing power together will be able to deliver the XR experience with better and immersive content, further overcoming the limitation of the present XR devices.
- Further, on-device + cloud-based AI can drive the fluidity of the overall XR experience with better optimization of sensors, image stabilization, object detection, semantic segmentation and so forth
New Techniques: Split Rendering
Exhibit: Split Rendering - Distributed XR Workloads Processing for More Efficient Form-Factors . Source: Qualcomm 4G/5G Summit
This creates an opportunity for new players to enter the XR ecosystem, especially the network operators that missed out on the cable TV revolution. For starters, the content will be delivered over the 5G network and will require a reliable connection from a network provider. In addition, network operators can monetize their investment in 5G by providing the edge cloud infrastructure that will host content. It will also allow the device to have better rendering by splitting complex computation between the servers and the XR device itself. Faster and robust connectivity will further content providers like NextVR delivering live entertainment and online gaming companies to engage the user with-in the ecosystem.
Silicon and system level, players such as Qualcomm are working on specific technologies like Split Rendering, 5G and on-device AI which should remove a number of barriers for XR devices to take off. However, this technology is still in its nascent stage and will only mature once there is a robust 5G infrastructure in place.