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Understanding the differences between virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality

By Loudon Blair, Senior Director, Corporate Strategy Office, Ciena | Aug. 11, 2016
There are many exciting use cases emerging, but network infrastructure will need to evolve

As a combination of both AR and VR, mixed reality needs to be built upon technology capable of both: high bandwidth, low latency, and able to allow the user to explore a digital 360-degree space while the headset reacts to the environment around it. We’re very early in the development of MR technologies, so it’s too soon to say with accuracy what the required network resources will be for these devices, but we know they’ll be significant, and will require an even more robust and flexible network than both VR and AR.

Luckily, we have a little time to figure this out—though there are a number of people anticipating MR to be huge, so we had better sort it out before too long. The MR startup Magic Leap has, despite only showing its technology to a few individuals (and never publicly), raised $1.4 billion in funding, and Microsoft has been developing its own MR platform, HoloLens, for some time now, and has even begun shipping development kits.

Building toward adoption

The key to unlocking the potential of these platforms lies in making sure massive amounts of data can be transferred without being slowed down or limiting the experience. In short, this means we need to look to 5G and the infrastructure to support it, as well as improved wireline access.

Bringing the bandwidth to the user from a wireless perspective will be important.  Off-loading compute functions from the device to the cloud will free up significant bulk in the lens or headset. Importantly, there must also be an access infrastructure in place to enable low latency connections to the servers supporting VR platforms. Wi-Fi will allow users to be untethered inside the building, while the bandwidth and latency specifications being driven for 5G will help enable untethered access outside the building.

In addition to wireless, going the wireline route offers the potential to take advantage of fiber technologies to push bandwidth from hundreds of Megabits-per-second into Gigabits, whether into a home or enterprise.  Real time, ultra-high definition content with high QoE for multiple users is going to need to require that level of access bandwidth.

There are so many exciting, aspirational VR stories about all the things we can do with the many permutations of this technology, in the enterprise, healthcare, education, and more. The use cases are worth working toward, but we haven’t yet focused enough on the network infrastructure to make them a reality. We need to get to the point in which these capabilities become seamless, and we’re not there just yet.


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