Immersive video formats such as Virtual reality (VR) and Augmented reality (AR) have innovative and rapidly evolving ecosystems, but streaming video traffic today is still largely standard definition (480p) and high definition (720p) content.

Today, well over half of all traffic crossing mobile networks is video-related. And by the end of a six-year forecast horizon, that proportion is projected to swell to over three-quarters.

Virtual reality (VR) and Augmented reality (AR) are part of rapidly evolving ecosystems which include displays, sensors, cameras, SDKs, and application servers, as well as networks. But traffic associated with these immersive formats is not yet a significant proportion of the total traffic.

While much attention is understandably focused on new techniques and formats, one should keep in mind that the most common resolution for video streamed over cellular networks is estimated to be around 480p (varying from network to network). With smartphones and networks improving constantly, streaming HD and Full HD video are increasing in usage. And the more immersive formats will eventually start to contribute to traffic growth as well.

VR is already part of the gaming world, with 3D animation and 6 degrees of freedom—allowing a player to see realistic scene adjustments based on his/her changes in orientation and position. The closed nature of viewing VR, though usually limits its use to indoor locations.

On the other hand, AR is rich with possibility for mobile applications. Network improvements in both latency and throughput will open opportunities from entertainment and navigation to education, manufacturing, architecture, and construction. Use cases can require vastly different data throughput, largely attributable to the size of the data objects to be superimposed on real points of interest. Given a range of object sizes from a few hundred kilobytes to over 10MB, the necessary bitrate (UL+DL) to render the “augmented” reality could vary from less than 1Mbps to over 1Gbps. 

AR is going through a period of rapid innovation and usage will eventually follow, where it could make a big impact on traffic due to high image resolutions as well as ancillary traffic including the “motion-to-photon pipeline” (translating viewer motion to an adjusted viewpoint) as well as traffic from all the augmented data. Just how much AR contributes to traffic will be a function of where data is stored and where critical functions such as rendering reside. Small applications with a narrow data scope are already completely augmented and rendered on smart devices—generating little or no extra traffic. Large applications with many points of interest and large frequently updated databases could drive large quantities of traffic over the network.

Despite all the dependencies surrounding video bitrates and factors influencing usage, certain trends have held over time: video streaming generates more data traffic than any other application type, continually growing as a proportion of all traffic. And there is a clear trend toward more data-intensive video formats. Finally, it will take time before AR usage contributes to traffic growth in a significant way.