AUGMENTED CONNECTIVITY IS KEY TO UNLOCKING AUGMENTED REALITY
June 2021

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Gregg Knowles

By Gregg Knowles

  |  

9 June 2021

Is there really any such thing as an unlimited mobile package?

Gregg Knowles, Technology Director, looks at why AR could be transformative for businesses and what needs to happen to bring it to fruition

The prospect of augmented reality (AR) has been close for some time – tantalisingly close for those keen to embrace its potential. But after some false starts, AR technology is now waiting in the wings, ready to bring interactive experiences into a real-life environment via wearable technologies that overlay immersive digital content onto the physical world. Microsoft and Apple are among those trail-blazing product development and their HoloLens and Apple Glass innovations will be game-changing for businesses and consumers alike. But there is one last piece of the puzzle that is critical to bring these sci-fi ideas into everyday life: connectivity.

Putting AR to work

AR looks set to have many compelling use-cases across a spectrum of industries. Although the most cited example is its potential for use in remote surgery, this could in fact be a long way off if patients want to know the technology is proven before they become comfortable with the idea – if they ever are. But in many other areas, from product design to mechanics, engineering to education, it could soon be transformative. Imagine a construction site where workers could manipulate virtual 3D models with their hands using AR, making changes as though they were physically there in front of them. If data was then saved and stored into centralised systems, there would be no need to make manual changes to drawings, making the process more efficient. Training could become more intuitive and easier to conduct – even at a distance. Some jobs could even be de-skilled.

Traditionally, a major practical problem has been how to deliver the processing power required to make such devices work. Being linked up to a large machine that can generate the necessary power or having a big enough computer in-built was clearly impractical. Today, however, Cloud services have matured to a level where they are now processing powerhouses and able to handle the demands of AR in a virtual environment.

Real-time response speeds

Though some concerns remain around adequate battery life, the main barrier now is connectivity. For products like AR glasses to work effectively, device-to-server connections need to be so good that they deliver real-time response speeds. Operating with disruption and lag is not an option here. When it comes to mobile connectivity, wider roll-out of the 5G network will be key. But whilst 5G should offer the rapid connectivity speeds required, it’s still not available everywhere (far from it), creating a significant stumbling block to widespread AR adoption.

5G is not the only factor though: on-premises Wi-Fi technology also needs to be up to the task. The roll out of Wi-Fi 6 will make a big difference and looking further ahead satellite connectivity could also increasingly play a part. It’s too simplistic to say that one type of connectivity will be enough – in the future (as now), multiple modes of connectivity will be needed and people will simply use the best source for their purposes at that moment in time, depending on where they are.

Augmented connectivity needs to become a reality before tech companies can broadly roll out AR products, but that day is coming and soon. The puzzle is nearly complete, and AR could quickly move from being a pipedream, to becoming a nice-to-have, to being business-critical. Businesses could, therefore, benefit from being ready when it happens, by ensuring that they are using best-in-class connectivity solutions that will support the specific applications they may want to use.


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