How 5G and edge computing can enhance virtual reality

For some time now, 5G has been associated with the promise of new digital applications and services that come with a hyper-connected life. We have seen that this new technology, which provides “perfect” connectivity, creates new value for both us as individuals and to industries and enterprises.

VR in fron of a large screen

The current global pandemic is drastically impacting our daily lives, and as a result, the relevance of such digital applications and services is accelerating. For example, we suddenly see an increased need for communication services, tools for remote collaboration, and fast and reliable access to data – whether it’s from the office, the home or somewhere in between.

Augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) are two technology concepts providing significant benefits in this new digital reality. These technologies open new ways of working in areas such as manufacturing, gaming, media, automotive and healthcare, allowing for both increased productivity and completely new user experiences. In the Ericsson ConsumerLab merged reality report, 7 out of 10 early adopters expect VR and AR to change everyday life fundamentally.

These AR and VR applications also open up new business models and opportunities for service providers. It is the combination of 5G access networks, edge computing, high-performance distributed 5G core capabilities and new device form factors that’s bringing these new use cases to life.

 

Technologies driving the 5G evolution

The telecom industry has always evolved to take advantage of newer, better technologies as they become available – starting with 1G and evolving into 4G, and now 5G. In fact, the pace of technology adoption will accelerate with 5G. Technologies such as virtualization, cloud native, cloud computing, edge computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, network slicing, automation, management and orchestration are all key components in enabling the use cases and business models that are expected to come with 5G. These technologies will contribute to the high-performance, high-capacity, high-reliability and low-latency associated with 5G, all delivered at a low total cost of ownership (TCO). This combination of high performance and low TCO is essential, both in addressing the exponential growth in data traffic and in handling the increasing number of IoT devices.

 

5G business models

5G will empower the telecom industry to develop new business models and use cases, creating additional value to customers and new revenue streams for telecom operators. In addition to consumer and personal communication services, 5G will enable many services to businesses and various industries. A recent Ericsson report identified the 5G business potential, particularly addressing the industrial segment, to be around USD 700 billion. That’s a 35 percent increase compared to the traditional consumer market. But, consumers will also see new services coming their way, within areas such as immersive media, cloud gaming and live event experiences, which will also contribute to new business for the operators.

Not only will 5G enhance the current mobile broadband capabilities significantly, but it will also help support new business models such as fixed wireless access (FWA), private networks, and network slicing over public networks. These business models could be adapted to meet the requirements of various industries, addressing criteria such as low latency (manufacturing and financial services), wide area coverage (automotive) and cost-efficiency (massive IoT).

In a broader sense, 5G will play a significant role in enabling the fourth industrial revolution, where the boundaries between digital and physical worlds blurring.

 

AR/VR use cases at home and enterprises

What is virtual reality? VR is a computer-generated simulation of a real or alternative world. It is used in games and entertainment, training, education and scientific areas.

What is augmented reality? AR combines the real world with some virtual elements. AR enhances the viewing experience by super imposing images on top of the real world.

AR and VR uses are cropping up in many industries, such as health care, retail, automotive, education, and use cases such as location- based VR (LBVR).  

 

Enabling AR/VR experiences with 5G and edge compute

As we have been touching upon, the new immersive experiences enabled with AR and VR will transform the way we consume and interact with content, both from a consumer perspective and from an industrial perspective.

However, creating AR and VR experiences does not come without technical challenges. Combining and synchronizing the real world and the motions of the user with a digital world requires a massive amount of graphical rendering processes. Because the graphics require heavy rendering, on-device processes are augmented by splitting workloads between the AR/VR device and the edge cloud. Graphics rendering on the edge cloud augment latency-sensitive on-device head tracking, controller tracking, hand tracking and motion tracking to photon processing. This concept is called split rendering. But when the rendering is done in the cloud, and not on a mobile device, you also need a fast and reliable 5G connection to deliver the final experience to the user.

Both AR and VR use cases require stringent network requirements such as low latency, high reliability and high bandwidth. Ericsson has optimized its 5G core and radio infrastructure to offer an unmatched high-quality end-user VR experience. As you see in the below pictures, these use cases can be delivered to end users either via a dedicated private network or via a network slice over a public network.

 

Our solution: Ericsson Private networks

The Ericsson Private networks is delivered along with system integration services. With this integrated solution, Ericsson 5G network with its radio network and high-performance distributed cloud native 5G core deliver the wireless connectivity and enhanced VR user experience.

The below picture, (Figure -1) shows the two business models. First, on top, the Ericsson cloud native packet core is combined with a radio network delivering the VR experience in a private network setup. In this case, a dedicated private network for an enterprise is delivering the VR use case.

In the second business model, at the bottom, with a network set up for consumer applications, a logical network slice is created on top of the existing physical public network. This slice has stringent characteristics to ensure the demands of the AR and VR use cases are met. In this setup, an edge cloud infrastructure along with cloud native 5G core functions are critical to deliver the required latency, performance and reliability. The high-performance user plane (PCG) is distributed as close to the user as possible, to meet the stringent requirements of the VR application.

Ericsson has collaborated with Qualcomm Technologies and NVIDIA to bring this VR solution to market. With this solution, we are creating a VR experience based on three key components. First, the head mounted device (HMD) which is the new Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ XR2 5G reference design that drives all on-device processing workloads and unlocks boundless XR over 5G. Second, from NVIDIA, we have the RTX graphics processing unit (GPU), CloudXR and GPU virtualization software. And in the middle, connecting the device with the edge, we have the high-performance 5G network from Ericsson delivering high speed, low latency, ultra-reliable wireless connectivity. This is the first time all these components have been tested and verified together, as a system, creating great VR experiences with Ericsson delivering the entire solution as system integrators.

Ericsson 5G network in a distributed architecture

Figure 1: Ericsson 5G network in a distributed architecture

The below picture (Figure -2) shows Ericsson private networks solution with hardware and software pre-integrated and ready for delivery. The VR server is powered by NVIDIA RTX GPUs, CloudXR and GPU virtualization software.

Ericsson 5G network in a distributed architecture

Figure 2: Ericsson solution with hardware and software

While many of us see AR and VR technologies mainly used for gaming, in reality, many industry verticals are looking at these technologies as game changers. The 5G networks and their highly capable radio network infrastructure, high performance distributed 5G core networks and edge computing are ready to deliver the AR and VR experience wirelessly across industries. We foresee VR and AR use cases growing exponentially across several industry verticals enabled by 5G networks.

 

Additional information

 

Qualcomm and Snapdragon are trademarks of Qualcomm Incorporated, registered in the United States and other countries. Qualcomm Snapdragon is a product of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

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