Industries + 5G: 5G Makes VR/AR Prosper Again


August 5, 2019

7 Min Read
Industries + 5G: 5G Makes VR/AR Prosper Again

“Since 2015, VR/AR has gone through a peak from all the hype about two years ago, and bottomed out in the industry when all funding retreated. But we are sure now that VR/AR will start growing again in 2019,” said Zhou Hongwei, CEO of the well-known VR device company Pico, at the Customer Strategy and Pain Points Analysis Conference (CSPA) 2019 held by Huawei. For Zhou, as 5G is applied in industries, it will definitely change the VR/AR industry and bring it a brighter future.


Pico CEO Zhou Hongwei speaking at CSPA 2019

With 5G applied in industries, the VR/AR market will rise again

For years, Pico has been focusing on the all-in-one VR headset market. After going through its ups and downs, why is Zhou so confident about 5G cloud VR/AR in the first year of 5G commercialization?

The market research firm IDC forecasts that VR/AR headset shipment will significantly increase in the future. In the next 5 years, the annual growth of VR/AR device sales will reach 52.5%, and by 2023, VR/AR shipment will exceed 30 million units.

Industry players are most sensitive to industry dynamics. Pico has been paying close attention to trends in VR and has been clearly aware that the market share of all-in-one VR/AR headsets has kept increasing. IDC forecasts that the share of all-in-one headsets in the VR/AR market will increase from 14.1% in 2018 to nearly 50% in 2022.

As consumers familiar with the VR industry know, most early-stage VR headsets were connected to powerful PCs through a cord because they did not have sufficient computing power and rendering capabilities on their own. However, VR headsets with a tail like that are not consumer-friendly.

That is why many people believe that portable, wireless all-in-one VR/AR headsets are to become the industry norm. However, the current 3G and 4G networks cannot provide the high bandwidth and low latency required by all-in-one VR/AR headsets.

The all-in-one VR/AR headset market has been awaiting 5G, and Zhou believes that 5G can help the industry tackle the issue of portability. In his view, 5G also solves other problems, such as bandwidth, latency, and cloud storage of content, so that users can get connected anytime, anywhere.

“With 5G, VR devices will become smaller and lighter, and can be applied in more scenarios. VR will develop to become better suited to entertainment and consumer scenarios. In comparison, AR has a broader prospect of application in vertical industries and will ultimately outperform VR in shipments,” explained Zhou on how 5G is to revolutionize the VR/AR market.


5G improves VR/AR user experience from five aspects

5G VR/AR can be applied in many areas: video and gaming for consumers, or e-Commerce, education, healthcare, and training for businesses. These are important ways of supporting 5G application in all industries. Whichever area or industry 5G VR/AR is applied in, good user experience is key to its success.

This is why Pico has been committed to improving the VR/AR user experience, which according to Zhou, can be improved by 5G in multiple aspects.

First, lighter headsets: Early on, a VR/AR headset weighed about 500g. Now, it is around 200g and next year, will be down to just 100g. This drop in weight is made possible with a number of function modules moved to the cloud.

Second, 4K display now available: When it first came out, VR looked somewhat fuzzy because the early-stage VR headsets only came with a 1080p display for each eye of the wearer. Now, the latest VR headsets come with 3K or even 4K displays.

Third, natural and smooth 6DoF interactive experience: A VR headset is not simply a display; the immersive interaction it provides is also important. In a lot of use cases such as VR education, six degrees of freedom (6DoF) on the head and hands make for a better and more fluid interactive experience.

Fourth, storage and computing in the cloud: A problem with current all-in-one VR headsets is a shortage of local processing capabilities. As 5G becomes widely adopted, it will be possible for the cloud to compensate for insufficient local GPU capabilities with better rendered images and therefore, will effectively lower device costs.

According to Zhou, foveated rendering based on eye-tracking technology can lower the demand on render servers and transmission bandwidth for each user. Generally, 5G-supported cloud VR services cost less and are more efficient.

From the perspective of telecom carriers, storage and computing in the cloud can improve operational efficiency. Image rendering for each user device consumes considerable traffic, but with cloud-based services supported by a server and 5G connection, multiple users can share the server and traffic at the same time.

Fifth, cellphone VR/AR experience supported by 5G SIM cards: 5G phones are essential consumer electronics; if a VR/AR experience based on 5G phones becomes a reality, the lower threshold will mean more users.


With 5G moving fast, cloud VR/AR needs more industry efforts

According to the Report of Prospects and Industry Chain Investment Opportunities Analysis on China 5G Industry by Forward Industry Research Institute, by 2030,estimated direct output and indirect output driven by 5G will reach CNY6.3 trillion and CNY10.6 trillion respectively.

On July 6, China issued 5G licenses for four major carriers. At the recent MWC Shanghai 2019, carriers said they would each build tens of thousands of 5G base stations within the year. They expressed that they were aiming for contiguous 5G coverage in dozens of cities and would promote services like 5G cloud VR.

Zhou has two opinions about the arrival of the 5G era: First, in addition to the ubiquitous and premium experience created, the combination of cloud, 5G, and VR/AR will also significantly benefit companies in the supply chain like Pico, which is focused on developing all-in-one VR headsets. Second, the cloud+5G+VR/AR model is still immature, and current commercial all-in-one VR headsets do not support 5G connection. Therefore, the industry has yet to work together for integrating 5G and VR/AR.

From the carriers’ perspective, they must identify market demand for the integration of 5G modules into VR. This means they will need to facilitate the development of cloud+5G+VR/AR products and certifications of 5G module products. For the investments of supply chain, they have to obtain as many 5G all-in-one VR headset users as possible in order to see a positive cycle of ROI.

From the perspective of technology, frequent tests in 5G network are needed for integrating cloud, 5G, and VR/AR. During the tests, industry players must work more closely together to tackle issues such as latency, cloudification, and software-managed synergy.

Zhou also believes that it is urgent for the industry to take two key actions for future development. The first is to develop industry standards. So far, a few vendors such as Huawei and Alibaba have released whitepapers related to the integration of cloud, 5G, and VR/AR. They are helpful to standards development, but the standards have yet to be refined to be useful and executable for the industry.

The second action is to build content platforms. In the future, the extent to which VR/AR can grow will depend on the content and platforms available. According to Zhou, carriers are playing a leading role in developing content platforms, but Pico expects carriers and Huawei to work together to build better platforms with better user experience.

In conclusion, companies in the VR/AR supply chain have recognized cloud+5G+VR/AR as an important business model for the future. 5G VR/AR is expected to be among the earliest commercial 5G applications and will support the implementation of 5G in numerous industries. For the 5G VR/AR industry to grow at a faster pace, it needs continued joint effort by carriers and vendors of chips, devices, equipment, content, and cloud services, to name a few.

Zhou Hongwei concluded his speech by saying, “In the 5G era, VR/AR is bound to develop better and earn more user recognition.”

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