5G and AR/VR: Raising the Bar for Immersive Experiences

As a corporate strategist for Molex’s consumer business, I’m always exploring new technologies that promise far-reaching potential for end-users and the companies that support them. 5G is one such tech enabler that is propelling innovation across a multitude of industries.

There are many ways in which 5G will deliver value to consumers. While tantalizing, this makes it difficult to pinpoint the first application areas that will drive the biggest technology investments or fastest user acceptance. Yet it seems everyone has an opinion, even my five-year-old son. He told me 5G is “going to power everything with your phone.” That’s a pretty astute observation, considering how 5G’s faster, low-latency transmission can support a growing cadre of consumer, industrial and healthcare applications.

According to the recent Molex “State of 5G” survey, Augmented Reality (AR) tops the list of primary use cases for 5G technology in consumer applications. I agree. AR and VR (Virtual reality) should be among the first use cases to take full advantage of 5G’s capabilities. Just think about the communications improvements that would be commonplace if you had “FaceTime or Zoom on steroids.” That’ll give you a sense of how 5G’s potential will take all sorts of immersive experiences to the next level.

Accelerating 5G-Enabled AR/VR Innovation

Fueled by high-speed sub-6 GHz and mmWave 5G networks and by new device innovation—from smart phones and tablets to AR glasses— AR/VR experiences will foster multi-dimensional interactions that connect consumers seamlessly with their surrounding environment. 5G-enabled AR/VR also will act as an accelerant for the global gaming market, which Mordor Intelligence forecasts will reach $296 billion by 2026 – with an increasing share going mobile. AR/VR is also expected to drive a variety of new consumer use cases, such as personalized marketing and augmented and virtual shopping experiences.

In addition, AR/VR will play a pivotal role in driving Industry 4.0 innovations on smart factory floors and other process industries, such as oil refineries. Private 5G networks can be more secure than WiFi 6 while offering improved latency and greater device density. We expect to see greater use of connected sensors in industrial machinery for functions such as condition monitoring, preventive maintenance, and eventually real-time process control. Data from these sensors can then be fed, wholly or in part, through a private 5G network. This data can be used to monitor tasks remotely, accurately predict equipment failures, improve training and reduce maintenance costs.

In some cases, this data can help technicians and engineers equipped with AR/VR headsets perform their roles more effectively or even remotely.  Having immediate access to a virtual data layer, delivered to you via AR/VR glasses or headsets, is pretty compelling. Imagine validating a new production line or troubleshooting issues from half a world away, as if you were standing on the factory floor. That’s just one of the reasons I’m bullish about 5G-enabled industrial AR/VR. Another reason is that deploying industrial 5G won’t require a massive “rip and replace” of legacy Ethernet connections. Once the right 5G infrastructure is in place alongside legacy connections, you can slip on the latest generation AR/VR goggles, get fed a stream of data from existing wired sensors or new 5G-enabled sensors, and make real-time decisions that boost operational efficiency, productivity and quality.

Although further out on the horizon, 5G innovations will have a lasting impact on connected healthcare, especially in fueling AR/VR-driven medical diagnostics and remote patient-care delivery. Granted, it’s going to take time for most medical 5G applications to work through regulatory pipelines. Still, the prospects of caring for patients in remote locations or having a top doctor anywhere in the world perform life-saving surgeries assisted by 5G-enabled AR/VR, are perhaps the most impactful use cases of all.

Assembling the 5G Puzzle Pieces

Raising the bar for truly immersive consumer, industrial and healthcare experiences requires a coordinated effort among members of the communications ecosystem. Network operators, network equipment OEMs, consumer device makers, edge/cloud computing service providers, connectivity solution providers and application developers all must come together to assemble the various pieces of an intricate puzzle of technologies, components and connections.

The communications infrastructure needs to be in place, which implies more small-cell deployments, particularly for mmWave, as well as upgrades to macro-cell antennas by the carriers. Meanwhile, serving up AR/VR to consumers on Bluetooth-connected smartphones and devices requires chipset enhancements. Next-generation AR/VR glasses or goggles will also need high-speed, miniature connectors and antenna components to deliver data at blistering speeds.

Putting together the 5G puzzle is complex, especially since infrastructure development drives device development, which in turn impacts application development. The ability to synthesize innovations and investments from various stakeholders is critical, as each is guided by different technology, market and cost considerations.

For 5G to fully realize its promise, we need investments in infrastructure, followed by investments by chipset providers and mobile device makers. As we scale availability of 5G-connected devices, application developers can pick up the pace to deliver those anticipated AR/VR and other game-changing applications. Luckily, Molex has a unique perspective from its vantage point as a trusted supplier across the landscape of major 5G stakeholders. Our finger-on-the-pulse approach to 5G enablement keeps Molex in lockstep with our customers while ensuring that 5G-enabled breakthroughs, including fully immersive and engaging augmented-and-virtual reality applications, soon become actual reality.

Director Corporate Strategy and Corporate Development