Extended Reality and 5G Explained

How we see the world is ever-changing and with the creation of 5G, those changes will continue to evolve in new and exciting ways. One of the coolest ways we are seeing 5G change the way we live our lives is through Extended Reality (XR). There are many applications in which 5G will continue to do more within our lives, but the journey XR is ready to take us on is unlike any other.

XR is a family of different virtual environments that mix with our reality. This includes artificial reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR). These are concepts many of us understand to some degree, but the places that 5G is taking these still emerging technologies are exciting as they are foreign. We may understand the concepts that are coming to our homes, cities, cars, bodies, and much, much more, but there are so many possibilities that will come to life over the next decade or two that the way we interact with electronics and each other will never be the same.

The exciting part is the unknown and that XR will touch every facet of our lives. There are applications within the XR space we see today and others right around the corner. Personal use is not the only area in which we will see improvements but also within the commercial space and in the public sector. When you consider the following industries, you’ll begin to realize how far-reaching this application is:

  • Automobiles
  • Wearable devices
  • The retail industry
  • Training and learning experiences
  • Maps and GPS
  • Entertainment
  • Security and access
  • Agriculture
  • Manufacturing
  • Fitness and healthcare
  • Logistics
  • Marketing and advertising

These are some of the many areas our society will see life transform right before our eyes thanks to XR, the Internet of Things (IoT), and 5G, but what are the roles that each component will play in our lives? How will they come together to create an advanced society? Learn more about each of these exciting aspects and how the way you see the world today may not be the same view, tomorrow.

AR, VR, and MR Explained

While each component of extended reality is connected, they each have an independent role to play. Together, we can explore how AR, VR, and MR are moving us and the things we love forward.

Augmented Reality

One of the best examples of AR is the phenomenon seen in the summer of 2016. The release of Pokémon GO was one of the most notable, well-executed examples of early adoption for AR. The idea of the game is to catch virtual monsters on your smart device and battle others. This is similar to the previous installments of the popular video game franchise, however, what separated Pokémon GO from the rest was that instead of pressing a button to travel around a virtual world, players were required to travel physically in the real world to collect their favorite characters and conduct battles via raids. The game allowed for real-time updates of competing players, live community events, spontaneous events, and combined the real world with the virtual world in a way not often seen before.

While not every application of AR will involve us running around playing a giant video game with our friends and family, the concept of allowing the merger of our world with the virtual one provided the framework for what we can expect moving forward. AR has many applications including interactive maps/guides, virtual learning experiences, design and engineering, entertainment, and much more. This application is the most widespread application coming to XR but it faces major hurdles. One of the biggest hurdles is that AR requires strong connections, incredible speeds, and extensive infrastructure to power the impressive technology. Furthermore, even with 5G beginning to showcase these speeds and build-out, we are still years away from the full realization of any aspect of XR much less AR.

Virtual Reality

The blessing and the curse of virtual reality are that instead of taking both our world and the virtual world and putting them together, VR takes the user out of their reality and into a virtual one altogether. We have seen various forms of entertainment capitalize on this trend through video and video games to provide a unique experience. Looking to sit courtside at your favorite NBA game? There’s no longer a need to purchase seats on wood. Just enjoy your favorite ballers, or whichever event you enjoy, from the comfort of your home.

VR is not a new concept and has been around for decades, but the levels that we are seeing 5G ascend this amazing platform to are astounding. There are tremendous breakthroughs in the medical field that allow for virtual surgeries held from across the world. We are seeing immersive training and educational opportunities come to life despite online instructors and lessons; this includes simulations that provide lifelike training opportunities with less danger and greater levels of immersive education. For example, military exercises, medical procedures before using an actual patient, and learning to operate complex machinery such as aircraft.

5G is the reason VR will go from what we know into what we can dream. Surgeries done through VR have been around since the ’90s, however, one of the key obstacles wireless communication as a whole suffers from and VR has yet to overcome is latency. The lag you experience between when you give a command for input within technology until the time that action corresponds on-screen is latency. When you have to deal with pinpoint precision needed for real-life execution, time is very important. In ideal conditions, 4G’s latency is around 20-30 milliseconds, but with 5G, this will be reduced to under 10 milliseconds and even below 1 millisecond as the technology evolves. There are still a lot of variables and a lot of progress that is needed because of the lack of infrastructure and reach of 5G, much like AR. Over time, VR will play an interesting part in many different facets of our lives from shopping to healthcare to entertainment and more.

Mixed Reality

On the surface, MR can feel a lot like AR. It combines both the virtual world with the real one and allows for interaction between the two. The important difference between the two is that mixed reality allows for interactions that change not only in the virtual world but also in the real world. Imagine moving a cup virtually but causing it to move in the real world. This is what MR allows to become a reality. Mixed reality is a very young technology with Microsoft officially providing a term in 2016. The applications of MR are still young, however, 5G will play a big part in powering the new technology.

How 5G is Bringing Extended Reality to Life

If there is a common denominator for all aspects of XR, it is that each concept will take a ton of speed to make a reality. Not only is speed important but so is the ability to react quickly as these applications can have real-world effects in a variety of sectors. 5G satisfies both of these criteria. 

We can break down 5G into three separate bands of spectrum. There’s low-band spectrum that can travel farther than any other band of 5G spectrum, but the downside is that it also comes with the lowest speeds. Mid-band spectrum provides a happy medium for 5G. You’ll get a decent amount of distance in coverage but without sacrificing as much speed. Finally, we see high-band (mmWave) spectrum. Here, you can reach speeds that can run laps around current wired broadband, however, it has a tremendous problem with traveling even to the point of not being able to penetrate through walls.

Each band is and will continue to play an important part in delivering comprehensive 5G networks to consumers and enterprises. For now, 5G is still being built out by major wireless networks including AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and the newest addition to American 5G, DISH Wireless. All four companies are taking different routes for their build-outs and as a result, different networks provide different abilities for the time being. It is important to remember that 5G is not an overnight occurrence. With 3 of the 4 major 5G networks officially nationwide starting in 2020, and DISH Wireless projected to join by the summer of 2023, there is still a ways to go before we see the infrastructure of the future available for our use. But advancements continue to be made every day in the world of 5G, XR, and beyond. One of those areas of interest will rely on 5G and help us get the most out of XR, known as the Internet of Things.

The Connection Among XR, 5G, and the IoT

Watching sci-fi shows and movies, where devices work together and can communicate, becomes a reality more and more as time goes by. Twenty years ago it would be unthought to do much more than speak on a cell phone. These days it feels like voice communication between two humans is almost an afterthought to what our smart devices provide. There were no smartwatches or digital personal assistants and self-driving cars were not a thing. Today? A completely different world. This phenomenon is known as the Internet of Things and what IoT promises to bring is even more interaction and connectivity than we see today.

This is where XR and 5G come into play.

As we can see, XR will help us interact with a variety of devices that affect the digital world, our world, or both at the same time. This is often seen through smart devices, interactive machines that will require wireless connections, other wireless networks, accessories such as headsets, automobiles, machinery, and plenty of other applications. 5G is powering IoT and will allow for latency to be reduced so low that devices will be able to interact with one another in real-time with or without human interaction. It is also empowering more wireless infrastructure to allow for XR applications as we have discussed.

Security, Ethics, and the Experience of Extended Reality

As with most things in life, XR has plenty of upsides but there are also obstacles the technology needs to overcome. In one of these examples, we have seen the limitations of current 5G networks; however, there are plenty of other hurdles developers, operators, manufacturers, network providers, and any other vendor involved in XR, IoT, and 5G will need to overcome.

Security is a big issue at hand. There are legitimate privacy concerns that we have already seen from the U.S. government regarding Chinese vendors, hacks that occur already in modern and previous technologies, and a new wave of problems that are coming due to an increase in devices. Imagine working in XR and it becoming hacked which could affect things in the real world. Corporate espionage learning trade secrets due to a breach in security that allows access through an XR device into a private network. These are but a few examples in which XR must come together to overcome to keep networks safe.

The issues involving security are important but there are also ethical dilemmas at play here, many of which Adobe does a great job of outlining in this article. Trust is important. Independence is important. Considering the user is important. We have already seen these issues in previous technologies but with XR designed by its nature to be a more immersive and in many ways intrusive form of technology, it is detrimental that those developing XR take these issues into consideration with the utmost care.

These issues ultimately affect the way users will experience XR which is important to consider as well. Usage should be beneficial to humanity and not negative towards the human experience. Mindfulness will go a long way and the hurdles that XR faces are far outweighed by the benefits. The future of XR will continue to be one of prosperity and innovation for the United States and beyond.