A new report from Intel and Ovum lays out the companies’ expectations for the growth of 5G cellular networks over the next decade, and the conclusions are eye-opening: Video will account for 90 percent of 5G data use, but 5G-powered VR and AR will reach a tipping point. And by 2028, gaming — not industrial use — will account for 90 percent of 5G AR data.
The report is a wake-up call for some segments of the entertainment industry as it claims 5G is about to drive $1.3 trillion in new revenues to media and entertainment companies over the next decade. Ovum forecasts that user demand for video data alone will grow from a monthly average of 11.7GB per 5G subscriber in 2019 to 84.4GB in 2028, at that point accounting for 90 percent of all 5G traffic. That’s not just because videos will improve in resolution; they’ll also include additional embedded media and immersive experiences that improve the experience, and video viewing time will increase.
While companies have been working to imagine “5G use cases” that could drive demand for the next-generation wireless technology, Intel and Ovum actually enumerate an interesting one: “responsive haptic clothing.” Video viewers could “[f]eel the vibrations and torque of driving a Formula One race car, the breeze of an African savannah, or the thrill of the bass at a U2 concert,” Intel suggests, enabling previously popular movies to be “rereleased with a new sensation layer, opening a new monetization cycle.”
Intel also expects major gains for both VR and AR, suggesting that “a new dawn of VR-driven experiences will emerge as early as 2025,” thanks to 5G. Beyond freeing players from cabled headsets, the report predicts that sensory experiences will be added to VR games, whereby “sensations such as heat and pressure could be bundled into a weapons upgrade in an action game.”
Augmented reality could evolve considerably as a result of 5G. The initial applications sound modest, as the report expects AR will be used to connect people to existing media through “virtual items, virtual characters, and augmented contextual information” — steps we’re already seeing with Star Wars and similar “AR stickers.” But by 2028, AR games are predicted to make up “more than 90 percent of 5G AR revenues,” or around $36 billion globally. That’s a fascinating suggestion, given that AR today is all but exclusively seeing interest from industrial and enterprise customers.
Despite the prediction of heavy video demand, Intel sees games as the key driver for 5G: “Gaming will be at the forefront of 5G-led innovations.” Initially, users will see mobile cloud gaming become a reality, as cloud-based servers do the heavy graphics and AI lifting for less powerful mobile devices. By 2028, the companies expect that 5G mobile games revenue will be $100 billion per year.
Much of the past year’s discussion of 5G has been on its potential to transform transportation, cities, and industries, with carriers, chipmakers, and even government officials suggesting it will bring about a “fourth industrial revolution.” But if today’s report is correct, the vast majority of 5G data won’t be self-driving car controls or coordinated IoT sensors, but rather video, VR, and AR. In part, that’s because entertainment content is data-intense: The report notes that one minute of AR will consume 33 times more traffic than one minute of 480p video.
For Intel, the challenge at this point is to actually get 5G products into the marketplace. The company has been working on 5G modems and has shown early prototype devices, but it appears at this point to be focused on equipping computers and larger network hardware devices with 5G as rivals such as Qualcomm concentrate on smartphones.
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