Probably not, unless there is a radical and disruptive change.

2017 seems to be the big year for augmented and virtual reality.

There’s been a lot of recent interest in these emerging technologies, and the stage is now set where some of the most immersive AR and VR experiences will be built. There are tons of companies already working on this, but perhaps one of the biggest announcements made in the AR space was at Facebook’s F8 developers conference in San Jose. Mark Zuckerburg said that if there was any one thing to take away from his keynote address, it was that they were making the world’s first augmented reality platform using the mobile phone camera.

f8_zuckerberg_1492575176703Zuckerburg’s keynote address at f8 2017. (Photo credit: NDTV)

To put that into perspective — app developers all over will soon have access to the technology to build rich AR experiences on the world’s largest social platform that reaches more than 1.8 million monthly active users. That in itself is pretty damn exciting.

“Houston, we have a problem.”

The excitement can quickly be dampened however if you stop to think about the entire path of how these new AR and VR experiences will reach mobile users.

valuechain.001

Value chain for a mobile AR experience

No prizes for guessing where the bottleneck will emerge first. That’s right — it’s the connectivity. Think about it, we’ve ALL had that experience when we desperately needed to get an answer from our smartphone — directions to a location, an email, or even a result to a Google search, and all you get back is one of those annoying ‘loading’ wheels spinning on your smartphone screen that doesn’t seem to stop (and you’re ready to throw your phone away.)

Though we’ve all experienced this at some point, it’s perhaps rare and less of a problem for some users and more commonplace for other users depending on where you live and how fast the internet is. The truth is that while it may not be a huge problem right now, it is only going to get worse.

An immersive AR/VR experience is simply unattainable without a strong network to support it. While the AR apps of today (such as Pokémon Go and Snapchat) may not really eat up your data plan, it won’t be too far off before we see more advanced AR & VR apps in the mainstream. And the bandwidth requirements for these type of apps is vastly different and demanding in comparison to other types of applications.

5G

Bandwidth and latency requirements of potential future mainstream apps (image credit & source: GSMA Intelligence)

The Future Network? More of Everything Please

But it’s not only AR and VR that will drive a huge spike in bandwidth consumption. Ericsson predicts that there will be a 12X increase in mobile data consumption from 2015 to 2021, and by that time 70% of that traffic will purely be video.

And then there’s also the massive IoT space that includes connected cars, machines, utility meters, remote metering and consumer electronics, and it is expected that the number of IoT devices will surpass mobile phones as the largest category of connected devices by 2018. The network requirements for IoT devices are slightly different from mobile phones — they require ultra-reliable and available networks with very low latency.

And so unless there are significant upgrades to the entire telco infrastructure chain — the backhaul, the cell sites and the radio interfaces — we will soon be faced with major data traffic jams and as a result, poor user experiences and non-performing devices.

Won’t 5G solve the problem?

But not to fear — isn’t that what 5G is for? Surely 5G will solve all these issues. Or at least some people would like to think so, but the future of 5G is still very uncertain at this point. 5G is touted to be the next big revolution for telcos, and should be a significant improvement over 4G or LTE networks to support the next generation of growing data demands. While moving to 5G in the next several years may seem as a logical evolution, a lot of telcos are still skeptical about the huge investment to be made in 5G without having any credible or lucrative business case in front of them. Sure, there’s a lot of buzz around augmented reality, connected cars and IoT, but the first set of commercially successful applications around these technologies are yet to emerge.

The Digital Divide Is Getting Bigger

There is another rather unfortunate aspect to all of this. While one side of the world continues to advance in better technologies, faster networks and innovative apps, there is another side which is just left behind and is not looked at seriously — the 60% of the world who are not connected today. And any advancements that are made on on end of the digital spectrum without having any impact to the other end will only increase the digital divide further — which already is fairly large.

FullSizeRender_2-750x562

These women from a village in south India travel travel 7 km daily to access the Internet. Using their smartphones they can view YouTube videos to learn new skill sets and start new businesses. (Photo credit and source: TechInAsia)

Affordability still remains as the biggest challenge to access the Internet, and telcos and governments need to work together to bring the price of mobile broadband down to an affordable rate.

It’s Time For A Disruption

From all of these challenges, there’s one thing that remains clear — the current means of providing mobile connectivity is not sufficient to support increasing data demands, nor will it be affordable enough to connect the unconnected. There has to be a disruption. And that disruption needs to involve radically different sets of technologies to work together and lower the cost of access while supporting higher data and low latency requirements.

History has shown disruption to be a force of nature — we as humans are naturally inquisitive and always looking for new and better ways of doing things. And it is that inquisitiveness, curiosity and passion that drives us to build the WAVE platform — our mobile mesh connectivity platform that connects people, applications and devices together a distributed fashion without being dependant on any central connectivity. Granted that we are still early in this journey, and that we have many wrinkles to still iron out, but we firmly believe in its potential to be a disruptor. A disruptor that can complement existing technologies to significantly reduce the cost of data access, become more energy efficient, and connect more people and devices in a cost-effective manner.

And who knows, wouldn’t it be neat to develop an augmented reality experience that uses the mesh network to connect to nearby people and devices? We’re very excited about the future that’s full of possibilities, and we’ll be there soon, one step at a time.

(PS — we’re almost ready to launch WAVE in private beta! Get in touch if you’d like to be one of the first to try it out!)

Author
Saju Abraham
Chief Product Officer