Unleashing the potential of AR in 5G era: Telcos get the trump card

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Huawei Carrier BG CMO Bob Cai at Huawei Better World Summit for 5G + AR


The world of technology is evolving; and with technology, the world is evolving as well. Now, with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), the line between real and virtual is thinning, perhaps for the better, for enabling better societies and delivering better products and services to humanity. With the emergence of 5G, the scope of AR has widened, as evident from the widespread adoption of the technology across segments like manufacturing, e-commerce, real estate trading, furniture, tourism, healthcare, education, and public safety. At the recently concluded Huawei Better World Summit for 5G + AR, Bob Cai, CMO of Huawei Carrier BG, emphasized how the combination of both 5G and AR yields more value for all walks of life while opening up new business opportunities for the industry players.

5G+ AR: An Opportunity for Telcos

“5G will switch on AR, and AR will light up 5G,” Cai said while explaining the synergy between the two. For telecom operators looking for new monetization options from 5G, AR is the way forward. With the higher availability of consumer AR devices and the wider coverage of 5G networks, 5G+AR will unlock greater potential for value-added services in consumer sectors. There are three takeaways that telcos need to focus on while combining 5G, AR and VR, according to Huawei. The first is to have a robust 5G network. Secondly, they must have diverse applications and services available. Third, they need to have a reasonable subscription plan. By launching services like AR over existing cellular plans, telcos can drive more subscribers to switch to 5G. It will also boost the growth of traffic, driving ARPU and uncovering more revenue opportunities for operators.

Huawei and third-party data estimate that the AR market will be worth 300 billion dollars by 2025. The consumer segment will gain significantly with social networking, gaming, shopping, traveling and education emerging as the first few applications of AR. South Korea and China have demonstrated some of the best practices around consumer AR. South Korea has established a successful business model in using AR in education, navigation and social networking while the Chinese telcos are using AR for shopping, education, and other domains. China has emerged as the leader in the AR and VR market with a market share of 54.7 percent, with a value of 4.6 billion.

AR is also being tested and implemented in many emerging markets. For example, Thailand is currently piloting 5G + AR in several key domains including social networking, gaming, shopping, travelling, manufacturing, among many others. Wider adoption of AR in areas like sports, education and healthcare will also help bridge the digital gap existing in several societies today.

What makes 5G and AR the best combo?

The popularization of 5G and other new technologies can enable a new AR ecosystem with a faster network, compact devices and intuitive content. Earlier the poor user experience and the higher cost of the AR devices were hindering the popularization of AR ecosystem. With the superior 5G network and support of cloud, devices today can perform faster. The old standalone devices now pave the way to compact versions integrated into smartphones with computing and storage offloaded to cloud. There is no need to carry the entire computing package on the head of the AR user. Thus AR devices will deliver better user experience and become more affordable in the 5G era.

With improved bandwidth and ultra-low latency offered by 5G networks, enterprises and content providers are offered ample opportunity to develop content to cater to diverse user applications.  Thus the combination of AR and 5G will create new opportunities around content. A successful implementation of 5G+AR is from LGU+, one of the first carriers to launch 5G, which has used AR as a key part of its marketing. Their strategies have produced results already, with 12 percent increase in service revenue.

The larger bandwidth and lower latency offered by 5G meet the requirement of AR. The eMBB (enhanced Mobile BroadBand), URLLC (Ultra-Reliable and Low-Latency Communication) and mobility are the three features of 5G that can help encourage the adoption of AR. However, there can be challenges associated with coverage, and latency could still emerge as an issue. This is because AR apps and services are highly data-hungry and data-intensive. They demand both large uplink and downlink bandwidth. Many AR apps are also latency-sensitive. For example, if we have to use an AR feature in our smartphone, we need to use the smartphone to scan an object and then the captured images will be streamed to a cloud. After the computing is done on the cloud, the result needs to be streamed back to the smartphone, and such a process needs large bandwidth. Since customers can’t wait for a long time for the result, latency must also be reduced to minimum. That’s why many operators turn to the cloud for AR delivery. Again, the synergy between cloud and networks demands a large bandwidth and low latency. To address these, carriers are building infrastructure by putting more computing power at the edge of the networks. Telcos are also adopting network slicing as an option to offload traffic and boost customer experience.

With the large-scale adoption of 5G and high-speed mobile connectivity, the industry will have over 91 million consumer AR users by 2026 and enterprise devices will account for a further 18 million connections on top of this, according to Strategy Analytics.

Huawei is working with telecoms and industry partners to roll out the scenario-specific solutions, company officials said. The company has launched an AR Engine and development toolkits, allowing partners to gain quick access and provide AR services to its customers.

Rajani Baburajan