Enterprises are looking to 5G in order to adopt more sophisticated AR/VR and wearable technology solutions for a greater variety of use cases. What is 5G? A network revolution that’s currently in its early stages, 5G (the new mobile standard that will succeed 4G) is an evolving constellation of technologies expected to unlock the ability to use wearable technologies (and other emerging tech) for a much wider range of applications in the workplace. Providers are beginning to deploy 5G around the world to support the expanded mobile connectivity and capacity requirements of the Internet of Things, including immersive experiences, machine learning, Big Data, etc. Enterprise decision makers tasked with identifying, testing and implementing wearable solutions can now begin to consider the capabilities that will be at their disposal once the speed, flexibility, and reliability of 5G becomes available. The speed of deployment of 5G-based mobile networks depends on the timing of the massive investments needed to build out the infrastructure. Nevertheless, now is the time to consider the future applications of immersive and wearable technologies and how 5G will enable the transformation of your enterprise.
5G promises a solution to the many network and performance challenges holding back Industry 4.0 (current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies). Using a range of new technologies, 5G permits the exploitation of a wider band of spectrum, including the high frequency millimeter wave spectrum in between microwave and infrared waves that has never before been used for mobile communications. A 5G network is equipped to provide greater bandwidth capacity, increased throughput (high data rate), improved reliability, while greatly reducing latency. At full deployment, 5G is touted to provide peak speeds 600 times faster than average 4G speeds and 10 times faster than standard fiber broadband, with the capacity to service 1,000 times the number of devices per square meter than 4G and a potential latency of just one millisecond.
The mass deployment of connected devices in the enterprise, including smart machines, robots, sensors, AR glasses, etc. is well underway. The reliable and seamless communication between machines/sensors and humans that the use cases of Industry 4.0 require, however, is currently impossible or attainable only via inefficient, inconsistent and very costly means. Intelligently-managed 5G networks will sustain the proliferation of devices with higher network demand that are putting 4G under great strain, meeting the growing complexities of enterprise IoT environments and facilitating the rising interconnectivity of public and private infrastructure assets. Faster than 4G LTE, more flexible than fiber, more secure than WiFi, and more dynamic than lower power wide area (LPWAN) tech like Sigfox and LoRa, 5G networks will be able to integrate those technologies and in some cases replace them completely.
An important feature of 5G is the ability to design customizable network connectivity solutions through a feature called network slicing. Network slicing is a layered network virtualization that creates independent silos or slices of connectivity optimized for a particular use case. Multiple networks are created on the same physical infrastructure and optimized for efficiency, delivering distinct bandwidth, capacity, availability and security characteristics according to how the particular virtual network will be used. If an enterprise builds out its own private network, it can configure the requirements and parameters of each network slice to support particular services or business segments for greater efficiency and security. For mobile network operators and telecom vendors, 5G connectivity could be packaged and marketed using a network as a service (NaaS) model.
With network slicing, you can partition a secure “slice” that would reserve independent network capacity for the connectivity needs of a particular function. For example, sensors in a factory relaying small packets of data at relatively long intervals require minimal bandwidth but do require a network with the capacity to accommodate a large volume of sensors. An enterprise network may host relatively few mobile devices but if there are data-heavy applications, then greater bandwidth and different security capabilities are required. Take robots performing high-priority, critical tasks; today, there is no alternative to achieve the reliable bandwidth they need to process information at high speeds save for expensive fiber connections. A mobile industrial robot tethered to a cable connection on the factory floor cannot reach its full potential. 5G network customization will allow enterprises to quickly adapt to changing needs (e.g. rapid and cost-efficient reconfigurations of the factory floor); it will also encourage enterprises to take a more active role in managing their networks, with many assuming greater control over enterprise network infrastructure that was previously externally or passively managed.
5G is a cloud-native technology that will unlock the transformative potential of AR/VR and wearables via edge or fog computing and exponentially multiply the potency of wearables in enterprise. With edge computing, data generation takes place at the source of the data, which in the case of IoT could be a connected machine, sensor or embedded device, and then instead of relaying the data to a distant cloud computing facility where there would be a delay in analyzing and processing the data, the data is processed and analyzed instantaneously in a smaller facility closer to the network edge. 5G enables this accelerated capacity for (less) remote computing to occur in real time.
From a hardware perspective, low latency edge computing reduces the need to install high performance processors into the device, which frees up hardware design and battery options. Bulky, energy-hungry headsets may become a thing of the past, as 5G and edge computing ease the ergonomic and performance challenges of today’s devices, including form factor, comfort, processing power, and battery life. This hardware transformation will be accompanied by a revolution in user experience. 5G should also bring down the cost of high quality AR/VR devices, enabling wider adoption and the practical consideration of more ambitious technological integrations.
5G’s low latency is the key feature that will drive the transformation of AR/VR and wearables. Latency above a certain threshold disrupts fluid virtual reality experiences and any lag in overlaying information in augmented reality is intolerable for collaborating with others or performing precision or time-sensitive tasks. Ideally, virtual reality should be so vivid, responsive and interactive that the user cannot distinguish the virtual from the real world. High latency destroys the illusion of VR and can cause VR sickness (dizziness and nausea), and is evident when motion in the virtual environment doesn’t sync up with the user’s movements.
Today, high quality, high resolution VR experiences must be physically tethered to high-performance computers due to insufficient battery and local processing capacity. Only with the rollout of 5G will immersive technologies reach their potential: Practical, fully mobile, truly wearable headsets that immerse users in vivid, interactive scenarios that would otherwise be impossible or prohibitively expensive to recreate in real life (e.g. simulating a utility repair in inclement weather). 5G will unleash more ambitious and ubiquitous enterprise applications like remote collaboration in the same virtual space that feels as natural as an in-person meeting and applications making use of real-time haptic feedback and unrestricted mobility.
5G is well-positioned to support the rising demands of the connected workplace over the next decade, even if full-capacity deployment is likely to be inconsistent due to uncertain use cases and costs. In the 5G world, the connected worker will collaborate and operate wherever she’s needed, leveraging seamless communication with robots and machines, vehicles, sensors and other humans to get the job done. It will be exciting to see what new use cases enterprises come up with as 5G is rolled out.
Image source: MWRF
The Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit (EWTS) is an annual conference dedicated to the use of wearable technology for business and industrial applications. As the leading event for enterprise wearables, EWTS is where enterprises go to innovate with the latest in wearable tech, including heads-up displays, AR/VR/MR, body- and wrist-worn devices, and even exoskeletons. The 6th annual EWTS will be held September 17-19, 2019 in Dallas, TX. More details, including agenda and early confirmed speakers, to come on the conference website.