An exciting and fast-moving Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) market is on the horizon that will bring novel content types and usage scenarios. To support that, networks and connectivity technologies grow in pure bandwidth capabilities and Mixed Reality (XR)-friendly capabilities like latency, network handoff, and slicing. According to global technology intelligence firm ABI Research, 30 percent of total augmented reality shipments, and 23 percent of VR shipments will include cellular connectivity by 2027.
“Much has been said about 5G being a pillar of AR and VR success, and while this is true in a vacuum, other variables make the truth more complex,” says Eric Abbruzzese, Research Director at ABI Research. “5G absolutely plays a key role in AR and VR, but it is time and use case dependent. Today, most use cases do not require the latency and bandwidth improvements that come with 5G. However, push connectivity needs to match more users in more places, consuming more types of content over time.”
While AR and VR have been around for a while, neither side has reached the mass market. This is partly due to a lack of content, interest, and device choice. Both are changing over the next few years: Apple, Google, and Meta are all heavily investing in both sides of the immersive market – and have been for some time – with that investment most notably hitting the market in new HMDs. Qualcomm is equally invested and a market leader for XR device chipsets – their dominance in the smartphone space for SoCs, including network components, overlaps significantly with the XR space thanks to similar components inside XR headsets as well as HMDs tethering to smartphones.
Cellular networks play an increasingly important role as that market reaches critical mass thanks to this momentum. While most XR connectivity is handled over Wi-Fi today, this is missing the flexibility of mobile usage and connectivity outside of expected network environments. Edge compute and streaming present the next step for XR compute, but with the expectation that networks can handle the coverage, latency, and reliability that is required.
On the network side, a handful of telcos have already been working toward specific augmented and virtual reality support for content and devices. SK Telecom is going so far as to build a global metaverse platform, expanding beyond the telco’s own network coverage. Nokia and Ericsson have been XR proponents for years and are now a significant part of the 5G-Advanced release coming in 2024.
“The technologies that will propel connectivity and challenge existing networks are not yet mature or widespread enough to have a noticeable impact today. However, those technologies will mature alongside the rest of the connectivity stack, touching AR and VR and becoming more capable and prevalent. The role of 5G and broader connectivity becomes less foundational to AR/VR and more synergistic – one benefits from the other, and they advance alongside each other, but not purely because of the other,” concludes Abbruzzese.
These findings are from ABI Research’s AR/VR Connectivity application analysis report. This report is part of the company’s Augmented and Virtual Reality research service, which includes research, data, and ABI Insights. Based on extensive primary interviews, Application Analysis reports present an in-depth analysis of key market trends and factors for a specific application, which could focus on an individual market or geography.