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The 5G future of virtual reality and e-sports

(Image credit: Image Credit: Carballo / Shutterstock)

We’ve been told for years now that 5G has the potential to alter the way we interact with the physical and virtual world. Yet, ideas of how much of a shift in technology it will become range from “super-fast internet at some point” to “minority report-like daily lives.” What’s for sure is that for gaming technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR), the explosion of 5G will be a catalyst in its mainstream adoption.

Beginning with what is usually hyped, we can start with looking at the speeds of 5G. Experts predict somewhere around 300-1000 Mb/s in the beginning, but there have been tests showcasing speeds towards 25Gb/s in specific environments.  For example, in Mitsubishi Electric and NTT DOCOMO’s 5G Outdoor Trials. In these conditions, it would be about 250 times faster than the average speed of 4G. If we equate this to Usain Bolt’s top sprinting speed (about 44km/h), it means 5G would make a person run at 11,180 km/h, or as fast as the fastest unmanned plane in the world, the Hypersonic aircraft X-43A.

Reduced latency, stable connections

Everyone knows how frustrating slow internet can be, but we are already streaming the likes of video and gaming channels on our current networks; so, what's the big deal? Any gamer worth one’s salt knows the issue is not only about the outright speed of their connection but also the latency and stability of the connection. In the context of gaming technologies such as VR, this can make the difference between a realistic and exhilarating gaming experience, and a sub-par one.

What makes 5G really revolutionary is the reduced latency. The stability and low latency will come from utilising short-range frequencies, as well as advancements within both hardware and software. In addition, an expansion of the network will ensure that both dense population areas, as well as rural locations, will see stable, fast connections.

Latency is expected to be below 5 ms, which is a 10-fold improvement to that of 4G. This makes network latency virtually non-existent and is why everyone can dream about remote surgery, automated vehicles, smart cities, and much more. However, for gaming specifically, cloud computing, multiplayer mobile gaming, VR and AR (Augmented Reality), interactive streaming are more exciting examples.

The advent of 5G

The way we purchase and enjoy games is changing and will change even more rapidly as 5G launches. For a long time, physical video game stores have struggled but the promise of 5G connectivity for everyone could be the final nail in the coffin for purchasing hard copies of games. Just as Netflix and other video streaming services almost entirely eliminated the need to own DVDs (or VHSs for us millennials in the upper end of the spectrum), many think gaming will follow a similar path. There is really no reason left to buy a digital product physically other than the sentimental value of owning a hard-copy.

The future interconnectedness of the video game industry implies a couple of things on where it is heading in terms of how the consumers will be playing video games and how the experience around it will be created.

VR, AR, MR (mixed reality), and XR (extended reality)

VR, AR, MR and XR are industries all set to grow massively in the coming years, with forecasts for 2023 eclipsing 160 billion U.S. dollars. Nevertheless, there is a plateau that the technology will reach without a mobile, fast and stable network connection. 5G will give new realities the mobility they need and could leave us with cheaper, lighter, ‘new reality’ hardware in our daily lives which are open to the general public.

The major benefits of 5G to VR, as well as other industries, is that connectivity will be more secure and stable. At present, VR and AR apps can be interrupted by network performance, which massively affects the gameplay. 5G would mean that networks can operate with, as well as process many more devices at the same time. This means that an internet connection, and therefore, the gaming experience doesn’t suffer.

We already see the general adoption of new realities everywhere from employee training to entertainment; however, it is often infeasible for the average person to invest in the hardware due to the pricing - hopefully, this will change with 5G.

eSports and Streaming

Live streaming of eSports matches should see an improvement in its definition, and the 5G infrastructure available in stadiums will open interesting opportunities for augmented reality gimmicks. However, what is really interesting is the combination of mainstream media showcasing interest in eSports and the opportunity 5G brings to create a more interactive and dynamic stream. League of Legends already offer what they call “Pro View”, allowing viewers to see the match from multiple points of view, including various players’ perspective and layered streams. With the improved data-flow infrastructure, how we consume live-stream content could completely change and will be interesting to follow.

 When can we expect it?

Whether 5G will be an immediate gamechanger or a gradual shift is really anyone's guess and will depend on a lot of factors and investment from companies across a range of sectors. If we compare to the adoption of smartphones in the US population, penetration rates grew from around 20 per cent in 2010 to 70 per cent in 2018, which is amazingly fast. Given the rapidity of the roll-out of 5G in the US, there is an argument to claim that adoption will happen even more quickly.

We have become better at taking on new technological solutions and therefore will not struggle as much with what 5G brings - just consider how fast Netflix changed their industry once the infrastructure provided the bedrock for its streaming services. We also already have a lot of technology that is just waiting for the 5G infrastructure; these things combined could leave us all with 5G capabilities sooner than expected.

It’s true that we probably won’t be living in an alternate VR universe tomorrow, nor will we will be spending all our time in headsets. But it is true that we might see incredible changes to our day-to-day lives in the not too distant future. What is becoming more evident is that a hyper-connected, ultra-futuristic world is likely to come sooner than you think.

Troels Ringsted Senior Research Manager, Ryot Nordics & Netherlands

Troels Ringsted, Sr. Research Manager, Ryot Nordics & Netherlands, Verizon Media.