With 5G, XR experiences increasingly inclusive and accessible to all

There’s still a way to go before most people get to experience virtual reality (VR) and extended reality (XR), due to barriers such as motion sickness and high equipment costs. But using the power of 5G, Orange is helping users to overcome some of these barriers and enjoy optimal immersive experiences.

“Harnessing the power of 5G to offer more inclusive and comfortable extended reality (XR) experiences, using graphical computing power transmitted over networks.”

On January 12, 2022, at La Défense in Paris, Orange and Amaclio Productions unveiled Éternelle Notre-Dame, an immersive VR tour of the cathedral, which takes you on a trip through time from its construction in the Middle Ages all the way to the present day. Designed by Emissive, a company that specializes in 3D cultural tours and VR games, this 45-minute experience gives you the chance to dive into the history of this iconic Parisian landmark. Visitors can walk around in a 360° virtual environment, with their friends beside them appearing as avatars.

Harnessing the Power of 5G for VR

This Location-Based Entertainment (LBE) technology still has room for improvement. It relies on a Wi-Fi connection, meaning that the user has to wear a VR headset as well as a backpack containing a laptop, with both connected by a USB cable. This brings the user back to reality, and comfort and freedom of movement are restricted. However, at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2022, Orange Innovation’s teams used a Proof of Concept (PoC) to demonstrate that new mobile networks can help to remove these barriers. “We’ve decided to capitalize on our progress and work on improving 5G’s capabilities, so that we can offer more inclusive XR experiences,” says Khalid Oulahal, Project Manager for 5G and XR Services. “The aim is to move the computing power over to networks so that users can ditch the backpack and enjoy the experience with an entry-level headset, without losing any of the quality. This way, the best XR experiences can be streamed directly over the network, all thanks to Cloud XR. Using Cloud XR in this way could be hugely beneficial and applied to many different use cases, most significantly premium VR games, LBE services and augmented technicians for Industry 4.0 solutions.”

Computer Processing in the Cloud

5G not only saves us from cumbersome hardware; it also improves the equipment’s raw performance. To be visually comfortable and spare users from the infamous motion sickness, VR experiences need very high refresh and frame rates, which new mobile networks have the means to support when it comes to latency and bandwidth.

In terms of Cloud XR, this means “moving computing capacity onto the Cloud,” as Maxime Jouin, an XR Software Architect & Developer at Orange Innovation, explains. “The principle is similar to a remote office, where you can use a computer remotely, but instead this is applied to a VR headset. This means that the virtual experience is no longer powered through the headset or backpack, but by a remote computer. This computer calculates the frame rate being transmitted to it and converts it into a video feed, which is streamed live over 5G to the headset, where it is then played back. While this is happening, the headset tracks the user’s position and sends it to the remote computer, which recomputes the images. This process is then continuously repeated.”

Race to the Best Latency

Thanks to Cloud XR , users can invest in ultra-sophisticated hardware similar to gaming computers. Equipped with next-generation graphics cards, this kind of equipment offers very high-definition visuals and can support advanced optical effects like ray tracing (a technique that simulates how light behaves in the real world to generate digital images).

The solution on display at MWC shows how valuable 5G can be to VR experiences. It will be made available to the public in 2022 as part of the Éternelle Notre Dame virtual tour. Its potential could be even further unlocked in the future, especially in terms of latency, which is critical for users’ visual comfort. The PoC developed at Orange’s 5G Lab in Rennes has achieved a latency rate of 30 ms on a non-Standalone 5G network. By transitioning to Standalone 5G, it should be possible to increase this by 5 ms. And so the latency race begins.

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Live streaming has become increasingly widespread. With the addition of 5G, this service can be dramatically improved at all levels, including image quality, download times, interruptions and lag. Faced with today’s generations’ enthusiasm for live feeds, researchers are now working to adapt live streaming TV so it can be done on the go. The Goal: Lag-Free Live Streams Getting closer to what’s happening live is one of the main challenges in the field of live streaming. Yet, streaming over the Internet using Wi-Fi or 4G still results in a lag of 30, 40 or even 50 seconds on tablets or smartphones. This lag will particularly hit home for any soccer fans who have ever heard their neighbor watching TV and cheering for a goal they haven’t seen yet. It also affects participants in time-limited interactive TV game shows and televised broadcasts by figures of authority in relation to announcements, alerts or disasters, for example. Ensuring service continuity, particularly when faced with high demand, is another challenge of live streaming. At Orange Innovation, researchers are therefore thinking about how they can make improvements in the field of TV streaming on the go, using a combination of 5G, video streaming technologies (multicast, low latency), network bandwidth allocation (network slicing) and edge computing. Their work has primarily focused on mutualizing streams; a key way of saving bandwidth. Dominique Thômé, Product Manager Innovation Data TV, explains that “Unlike unicast technology, which broadcasts streams as many times as there are simultaneous connections, multicast should allow a single stream to be broadcast to thousands of people connected to a large 5G zone. This mutualization prevents bandwidth loss and, consequently, service interruptions from network congestion. Another advantage, which is of great importance to Orange, is that it consumes less energy and therefore contributes to the transition to a low-carbon economy.” Recognizing the Know-How of Carriers Experiments carried out in the Orange laboratory have yielded interesting results. A real-time readjustment of video quality to prevent network saturation resulted in each customer being able to watch TV with only five seconds of lag, confirming the feasibility of 5G live streaming on the go. In fact, faced with ever-increasing volumes, some broadcasters are beginning to turn to carriers to broadcast their TV streams. They need players that are able to transmit this huge amount of data while ensuring optimal quality, in order to avoid any latency problems. Thibaut Mathieu, Director of Innovation for Interactive & Multiscreen Services at Orange says that “Our pioneering approach toward 5G live streaming highlights the valuable role that network carriers play, right at the heart of the system, compared to OTT players (“over the top,” such as the Tech Giants), both in terms of technology and business. We will be able to get involved in data transmission, with optimal mutualization technology that will save money and energy.” These technologies are consistent with Orange’s CSR commitment, both in terms of carbon footprint (lower energy consumption) and inclusion (broadcasting the right information at the right time). More than Just Entertainment The challenge goes far beyond the traditional TV broadcasting market itself. In the context of the health crisis, brands have been quick to understand the value of live streams to generate sales and are starting to venture into “Live Shopping.” Originating from China, this large-scale approach to teleshopping consists of an online event where presenters, influencers or personalities showcase products live to a digital audience who are able to order products or ask questions. Live Shopping is attracting more and more brands around the world. “With hundreds of thousands of people connected at the same time, its large scale will certainly create capacity issues” says Thômé. “This is another case where mutualization will ensure quality of service.”

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