Immersive, multi-sensory extended reality (XR) is what we’re all crying out for, apparently, but there’s a lot of work to get through first.
According to a new report from the Next G Alliance (NGA), 1 billion XR glasses and sensory devices will be in use by 2030, with growth being driven by advances in lightweight, high-performance form factors, wearables, and even brain-computer interfaces. Supporting these products and enabling their myriad use cases needs to be factored into the design of 6G networks, the US-based industry group says.
“XR applications are the next step toward seamlessly merging and integrating physical and digital worlds, and the ecosystem for these futuristic applications will establish crucial requirements for next generation mobile technology,” said NGA managing director Mike Nawrocki, on Monday.
So, what might these requirements look like? On the XR device side, the NGA said they will need “significant” graphics processing power to support high-fidelity graphics at frame rates of up 120 frames per second (fps). In tandem with that, they require fast and accurate motion tracking that updates the wearer’s view in real time, thus creating that much-needed sense of immersion.
Furthermore, the battery needs to have a sufficiently long life to make it practical, but be small and light enough – along with all the other hardware that these devices will pack in – to make for comfortable wearing. It is this need for lightweight, comfortable devices that means as much of the processing as possible needs to be offloaded to the network, and this must be accounted for in the design of 6G networks, the NGA says.
Therefore, on the network side, the NGA said performance will need to vary according to use case. Services like holographic communication will need symmetric throughput of 1 Gbps, for instance, while VR gaming can make do with around 50 Mbps. When it comes to latency, mission critical services will require sub-1 millisecond, while entertainment and education-focused services can probably get away with 20 ms and 50 ms respectively. Similarly, jitter needs to be measurable in microseconds for mission critical XR applications, otherwise milliseconds will suffice.
In terms of positioning, industrial use cases are likely to require accuracy to within 1 millimetre; entertainment services are likely to only need accuracy within 1 metre. 6G needs to be reliable too. In 5G, the term that gets bandied about is five nines, or 99.999 percent availability. Suitably for 6G, the NGA has added an extra nine, positing that mission critical apps will need uptime to be 99.9999 percent.
6G networks must also be capable of supporting XR services at speeds ranging from walking pace to that of a bullet train, or 500 km/h.
The NGA said if all these requirements can be met, then XR together with 6G could have a “profound” impact on a whole host of sectors, including entertainment, gaming, education, public safety, health care, transportation, communication, manufacturing and retail.
Given where the industry is today with 5G, and the lack of mass market uptake of current virtual/augmented/mixed reality devices, the NGA’s prediction of a billion XR devices in use by 2030 might prove a little ambitious.
Facebook parent Meta recently cut the price of its Quest Pro and Quest 2 headsets, which suggests it has yet to find a price point that will attract punters in sufficient numbers. Similarly, HTC’s Vive range of VR devices are still very expensive, limiting their appeal to a niche of hardcore, well-funded gamers. Meanwhile Microsoft is understood to be gutting its VR/MR divisions as part of its redundancy programme, creating uncertainty for OEMs that want to make Windows-focused MR products.
The whole industry seems to have pinned its hopes on Apple producing a VR device that will stimulate broad uptake, and encourage competitors to join in. There are just one or two problems with that: Apple hasn’t actually unveiled it yet, and there are murmurings that when it does, it could cost as much as $3,000.
Unsurprisingly, the outlook for shipments is pretty conservative, with IDC in December predicting that global AR/VR device volumes will total 35.1 million by 2026.
Given the gap between where the industry is today, and where it needs to be by 2030, there is a lot of ground to cover over the next few years.
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