Today, over half of all traffic crossing mobile networks is video-related. And by the end of 2024, that proportion is projected to be over three-quarters.
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 (720p) and Full HD (1080p) video are increasing in usage. And the more immersive formats will eventually start to contribute to traffic growth.
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 outdoors.
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 in a period of rapid innovation and it has the potential 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) and 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.
Also on the horizon is another media form called “volumetric” media streaming, a technique that includes the capture, transmission and display of a three-dimensional space. The media can be rendered for viewing on a flat screen, 3D display or VR goggles. While this is a category of video which is at the forefront of development, it cannot be called “new”, as one form of volumetric media—the hologram—was conceived in the 1940’s, and the first practical examples demonstrated in the early 1960’s, following the invention of the laser. Though the hologram, due to its appearance in films such as Star Wars, is familiar to many, it is not likely to play a significant roll in mobile traffic development. A more probable development is the use of volumetric media in enterprise applications, as an extension of AR that allows the precise placement of objects in three dimensions. This will open up use cases in many industries beyond entertainment and communications.
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 trend toward more data-intensive video formats.