April 2, 2019

5G Network Slicing and the Extreme Real-Time Internet

Virtual reality, augmented reality and the tactile internet will be more promising thanks to the emergence of 5G network slicing.

Network operators are hoping that the introduction of 5G will bring about the dawn of new and previously unachievable communications paradigms. Yet they are also predicting a boost for technologies that have been around for the better part of a decade but have not yet bloomed into mass adoption. Now, it seems that the immense bandwidth, low latency, advanced radio options and software programmability of 5G is set to give those technologies a large shot in the arm.

5G is expected bring about a 10X increase in throughput, a 10X decrease in latency, a 100X increase in traffic capacity and a 100X improvement in network efficiency.

Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and the tactile internet are applications which are characterized by their reliance on real-time communications to provide large amounts of data from remote locations such as the cloud or a service provider’s data center to a mobile device. It is this reliance on large data streams and super low-latency that has been a barrier to their growth.

Let’s take a look at these user experience-centric technologies and see how 5G will transform them in the 2020s.

Virtual Reality

Internet traffic associated with VR has been growing steadily for the past five years, but the vast majority of that traffic is not carried over radio networks. People are using VR headsets and smartphone apps in their homes directly through Wi-Fi and fixed-line broadband connections. Because the immersive user experience is central to a VR application’s attraction, connections that buffer or lag are enough to shatter the illusion and damage the app’s reputation.

5G is expected bring about a 10X increase in throughput, a 10X decrease in latency, a 100X increase in traffic capacity and a 100X improvement in network efficiency over existing LTE networks, thus enabling the mobile extension of VR. This has implications in the current entertainment markets for gaming and movies, but also in concepts that are currently unrealized. Additionally, 5G operators will be able to provide a network slice to assign and guarantee pre-defined service characteristics to a device, ensuring its ability to maintain a high-quality immersive experience.

Another major mobile VR opportunity comes hand in hand with autonomous vehicles. With autonomous vehicles, drivers and passengers are free to do anything they wish while the car drives itself. This means that entertainment like VR games and movies can be delivered to moving vehicles using specific 5G network slices that are different from the network slice assigned to the car’s telemetry.

Augmented Reality

Unlike VR, AR was designed specifically as a mobile concept, overlaying internet data onto the user’s real-world view for information or entertainment purposes. While some AR killer apps such as Pokémon Go have captured the public’s attention, the technology still remains underused in 2019. More than VR, AR is a mobile opportunity for service providers, allowing them to partner with brands with physical stores to pepper the physical environment with virtual interactions, retail offers and smart city feedback.

Beyond the smartphone, AR headsets and glasses have remained bulky and unpopular largely because headsets must have some processing power to do real-time computing. 5G network slicing will allow extremely thin hardware to be placed into headsets, making them identical in profile to normal sunglasses. Then, with edge computing, processing can be done in the cloud and can be placed near the user to nullify any lag or jitter caused by the round trip the data must do between the device and the telco cloud.

The Tactile Internet

The most recent development in extreme, real-time applications, the tactile internet, provides users with experiences involving the sense of touch. Used in conjunction with AR or VR, the tactile internet provides feedback through device-embedded clothing like gloves to intensify the virtual experience. The entertainment options are obvious, but there are also high-value enterprise applications in the world of medicine, e.g., cases in which surgeons can perform remote operations while receiving multi-sensor feedback to increase the nuance of their work. With a 5G network slice, sub-millisecond latency and a large bandwidth package, this kind of application can move from the unthinkable into reality.

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