Next-Gen 5G Will Unlock VR, Autonomous Vehicles and More

Improved latency is the biggest selling point for next-generation 5G wireless technology. Verizon, Vodafone and Huawei are demonstrating the impact on wireless video, video games and virtual reality. With 5G, latency will plummet to 1 to 2 milliseconds, versus 4G’s average 50 milliseconds, positively impacting many markets, from medicine to self-driving cars. But, although the U.S. will see the first commercial 5G sometime this year, many emerging markets are still limping along with 3G and hoping for 4G connections.

VentureBeat reports that, with 4G/LTE, Huawei achieved a 33-ms end-to-end latency, “a nice improvement, but it’s not even close to what 5G will soon be offering.” VR should ideally offer no more than 7 ms, and anything over 20 ms latency is likely to induce nausea. That means there can be no streaming VR without “5G’s sub-5 or sub-2 ms latency.”

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Such 5G games live-streamed to a headset is what’s coming next, following by “extended reality” (XR) glasses that alternate between VR and augmented reality as needed.” Qualcomm is currently working on XR technology with VR headset makers.

Safe autonomous vehicles depend on low latency, “so much so that the 5G standard has been designed to include a special ‘ultra-reliable low-latency communications’ (URLLC) protocol for vehicular use” that demands “99.999 percent reliability, no interruptions, and millisecond-level responsiveness.”

Reuters reports that, “among industry insiders, the debate is about whether 5G will deliver on all the promises that its most excited proponents make and how much they can afford rolling out the new technology when profits are squeezed by competition and regulation.” After the first commercial 5G project launch this year in the U.S., Japan and South Korea will follow in 2019, with China and, slowly, Europe in 2020.

The upgrade will also be expensive; according to global trade body GSMA president Mats Granryd, it might mean “capital expenditure rising to 16 to 17 percent of revenues generated by the mobile industry from 2020, up from 15 percent now.” For GSMA members — 800 operators and 300 suppliers — the cost to upgrade mobile networks globally could cost $500 billion from 2018 to 2020.

“We’re working in a capex-restricted industry,” said industry consultant Bengt Nordstrom. Experts don’t expect 5G-compatible smartphones to come to market until the last half of 2019.

The New York Times reports that, because 5G relies on “smaller equipment placed an average of 500 feet apart in neighborhoods and business districts,” many communities are “insisting that local governments control the placement and look of the new equipment.” Telecommunication companies, on the other hand, are seeking to rollout 5G as quickly as possible to reap a predicted $250 billion in annual service revenue by 2025. Telecom firms are already working with lobbyists, but “13 states have passed bills that limit local control, and several other states are considering similar laws.”

FCC chair Ajit Pai has “strongly encouraged weakening regulations to accelerate the deployment of new 5G technology.” FCC commissioner Brendan Carr also, “announced details of a plan to streamline the environmental and historic review process for 5G infrastructure, saying it could cut costs by 80 percent.”

Related:
EU Countries, Lawmakers Strike Deal to Open Up Spectrum for 5G, Reuters, 3/2/18
U.S. Congress to Vote on Allowing Spectrum Auction for 5G Networks, Reuters, 3/2/18