Increases in computing power, miniaturisation of hardware and the speeds envisaged for radiocommunication are paving the way for large-scale development of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). VR involves immersing the user in a digitally reconstituted environment in which the user may be a spectator or even interact with virtual objects or persons known as “agents”. AR retains the real world environment but overlays it with information or images. The frontier between the two concepts remains subjective and varies according to the proportion of the real/virtual in the environment presented to the user.
One way in which the technology can be used involves a specially adapted room (CAVE, a recursive acronym for Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) in which 3D images are projected onto the floor and white-screen walls surrounding the user, who wears 3D glasses and carries sensors to detect their location and movements. This requires dedicated infrastructure and is therefore generally reserved for corporate use.
A second and more recent option relies on the small, high-resolution screens that have now become more widely available, mounted in specially designed headsets. The computing power still resides in an independent PC, however, meaning that cabling is required. These are mass market electronic devices, mainly used at the moment for immersive video games.
A third possibility involves using a smartphone to scan in all directions for virtual objects, but the applications and image quality remain limited by the computing power of the device itself. Unlike the first two uses, this approach does away with the need for wired networks and relies, out of doors, on mobile network frequencies. At present, it is particularly well suited to augmented reality thanks to its ability to display a variety of information or images, as illustrated by the Pokémon Go game.
The expected growth in VR and AR requires access to speeds sufficient to dispense with wired devices whilst supporting mobile display, at very high resolution, of complex, dynamic environments, and limiting latency. This relies on spectrum resources, which may be implemented from 2019 onwards in the form of local networks on licence-exempt spectrum (WiGig) or via 5G.