Right now, if you want to stream 360 or VR180 4K video you need to have a good WIFI signal. However, in a few years when 5G is fully rolled out you will be able to stream 4K, 5.7K, even 8K without issues. So how will 5G solve this problem and what exactly is 5G?
5G is the fifth generation of standards for wireless technology. In the field of mobile telecommunications, a generation refers to a change in the essential nature of the service, including radio frequencies used and how components, transmitters and antennas handle these radio signals and exchange data. The individual generation standards are principally set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) a specialized agency of the United Nations. Actual implementations of networks are done by mobile operators, and over time accepted as covering a range of standards within each generation. 1G refers to the first generation of wireless cellular technology, analog telecommunications standards that were introduced in the 1980s. 2G technologies were the first generation of digital cellular technologies. 3G technologies brought speeds from 200kbps to a few megabits per second enabling wireless Internet access and basic video. 4G technologies, such as LTE, brought speeds of 10Mbps to a few hundred megabits per second under laboratory conditions, enabling mobile web access, gaming, high-definition video and video conferencing. The 5G specification targets much higher data rates, reduced latency, higher system capacity and numerous device connectivity. For mobile broadband (MBB) peak minimum upload speed of 10Gbps (50Mbps Expected), minimum download speed of 20Gbps (100Mbps Expected) and 300Gbps-1Tbps+ for 5G fixed wireless access (FWA). The specification also calls for low latency, the delay that takes place during communication over a network, of 1ms or one thousandth of a second. Higher capacities will enable support for 100 devices per square meter or 1 million devices per square kilometer.
So, the 5G specification is complicated, enabling things like Edge Cloud Rendering for future VR and AR headsets, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Self-Driving cars and Smart Cities. But for live streaming of VR video the one factor we care about is the increased bandwidth. The issue with live streaming 4K or 8K over a 4G network is that it was never designed to handle the kind of bandwidth you need to support these types of video. This is not to say that it is impossible to watch a 4K video over 4G. While average download speeds over 4G range between 5 and 12 Mbps you may get higher bandwidths, especially if you have line of sight to a tower. However, these speeds only apply to download speeds, average upload speeds over 4G range from 2 to 5 Mbps, not even close to what you would need to reliably stream at 4K. But with upload and download speeds in the Gigabit ranges 4G will be able to handle 4K, 5.7K, even 8K with its bandwidth requirements as high as 100Mbps or more. Now of course having the bandwidth to stream VR in 8K is only one step in assembling all the technologies to enable smooth livestreaming to VR headsets. Fortunately, the Japanese wireless carrier NTT DOCOMO has taken a major step forward toward a solution.
In February 2019 NTT DOCOMO, INC. announced it developed an 8K 3D virtual reality system for streaming and viewing at 60 frames per second video over 5G. The system features an 8K encoder that supports up to 60 fps, a special 3D camera for live video streaming, a Field Programmable Gate Array stitching device and 3D audio system. For playback the system was described as a “panoramic super player audiovisual headset” using an HTC Vive Pro to demonstrate the system. The system was successfully tested at a rehearsal for the famous Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido. In April 2019 HumanEyes Technologies announced its collaboration with NTT DOCOMO as a Key Solutions Partner for Real World Field Trials of Virtual Reality Training over 5G Networks. Trials are to be conducted at a 5G test environment, the “DOCOMO 5G Open Lab” in Guam using HumanEyes Technologies Vuze XR Camera. Working with the local power company, the Guam Power Authority, the use case of training new engineers in the field by well-trained engineers in VR via 5G will be tested. This has real world applications in many settings where knowledge needs to be transferred from more experienced workers to new workers, doing this training in VR over 5G in the field has huge advantages over the expense and hassle of onsite classroom training.
In the future, searching for a good WIFI signal in order to live-stream for Virtual Reality will be as antiquated the clicks and buzzes we used to hear when connecting via dialup. While ubiquitous 5G networks and 5G enabled technology is still a few years away, the foundational work to enable these 5G use cases, including live streaming of 4K-8K VR video, is going on now.