Cloud computing VR – is 5G the route to success?

By 23rd April 2019Food for thought
Developer working in virtual reality

With news of South Korea and the US launching commercial 5G services, it won’t be long before 4G is a thing of the past (and rural areas), and 5G will be popping up in your city. Complete with brand new 5G enabled phones and (likely) high contract fees initially for early adopters.

In fact, here in Brighton, we’ve recently seen the latest 5G testbed launch, led by our friends at Digital Catapult.

It’s predicted that the technology will increase speeds of up to 20 times 4G signal, with increased reliability and coverage than its predecessor.

Looking back at the jump between 3G to 4G, we weren’t sure of the use cases beyond just doing things faster, but notably, the emergence of Uber is a result of the technology developing. It enabled mobile payments and advanced live location tracking – both key components to the appeal of Uber to users at the time (lower fares are covered by the company remaining a loss-making entity). Similarly we saw the explosion of social media and sharing of high quality photos and videos across mobile networks with the launch of 4G.

One use case is enabling virtual reality to grow and develop into a mainstream technology, like smartphones and tablets, through reduced friction of access to content.

Currently, VR’s biggest problem is cost, lack of content (which will grow with the technology) and quality of headsets. But these aren’t the only problems the industry is facing.

Most high-end VR headsets on the market require a gaming laptop to run and a series of sensors located around the immersive space. Creators of the hardware have struggled until now to fit all the technology within the headset, balancing quality and ease-of-use. A recent development is the Oculus Rift S, a wireless headset with all the tracking components needed inside the device. Available from $399, it’s easier to set up, requires less technical knowledge but still requires the gaming PC to run content from. At the other end of the scale, mobile VR has offered ease-of-use but has less power and technical capabilities to drive truly immersive experiences. 

But 5G could enable something entirely different such as cloud computing for VR. The concept of having the ability to move both the graphics card and computer chip to the cloud, and connect to them wirelessly over 5G. It would eliminate the need to connect to a computer, could be a fraction of the price (as these wirelessly connected components could be used by different people/headsets at different times).

And although it might seem out there, it’s really not. It’s similar technology to that of Shadow PC – a gaming PC subscription company based in Paris. A user leases / subscribes to the plan and can stream 4K games over a fibre broadband plan from a mobile phone or cheap laptop. It saves the customer having to spend £1000’s on hardware, and connects the user and their plan to a high-speed machine over Wi-Fi. Similarly, Google has launched a competitor with Stadia. Whilst these platforms are for screen-based “flat” experiences, the idea that the low latency and high bandwidth offered by 5G will enable streamlined VR content to be delivered over the air, bridging the gap between full VR experiences and ease-of-use and operation.

With 5G now becoming commercially available in other parts of the world, it’s important Europe keep up so it’s the use cases can be explored here, and the next company (Uber) or technology (mobile payments) can thrive. And who knows…  maybe that’s VR.