Are Networks Ready for Augmented Reality?

By    August 5, 2016

The other weekend, some relatives of mine paid me a visit. The first thing their children asked upon arriving was, “What’s the WiFi password?”

An entirely expected question. But I was surprised by how they used the WiFi. Right after logging in, smartphones in hand, they bolted to the backyard. To catch Pokémon.

I couldn’t help chuckling as I watched them scamper around, trying to catch imaginary creatures on their phone screens. It seems crazy, but Augmented Reality (AR) games like Pokémon Go – which offer prizes based on a player’s GPS location and overlay moving images on a phone’s camera feed – are set to blow up in popularity. Pokémon Go alone has already been downloaded more than 100 million times.

These games pose several new challenges for network professionals – ones we can’t ignore.

First, AR might encourage users that were once content playing Candy Crush at home to step outside and explore parks and forests. So I predict we’ll continue to see greater network traffic in places that were once relatively quiet, and not necessarily ready for heavy spikes in data usage.

In addition, as games that rely on GPS tracking and video streaming proliferate in typically low-traffic areas, networks will experience more strain than they would from simple mobile web browsing.

So what can service providers and network professionals do to prepare? In low-traffic areas, they may find it useful to have an easily deployable (and even temporary) WiFi offload and wireless backhaul to reduce the strain on cellular networks. This will make it much easier to handle surges that last for weeks or months based on a new AR application’s own surge in popularity and usage.

It will also be crucial to maximize spectral efficiency and minimize radio interference. We’ve focused heavily on this at Cambium, developing Dynamic Spectrum Optimization (DSO) tools that can automatically sample and change channels to avoid interference without affecting link service.

In fact, our own cnMedusa enables the same precious spectrum to be used by more concurrent users than ever before. With this breed of MU-MIMO technology, we’ve helped many providers service more users with more high definition video and streaming services without requiring any additional spectrum use.

One thing is clear: the drive for rich media in the mobile application is not going to slow down. Consumers and even some enterprises have latched onto video streaming and GPS-based gamification – and we in the network industry must be prepared to deliver on the throughput and coverage that rich media requires. Networks that can handle high-resolution pictures, video and data will be viewed as superior and grab the lion’s share of customer loyalty.

And just as we saw with Snapchat, and now with Pokémon Go, young people like these children are the ones really driving these network demands. In the wireless industry, it’s not always the grown-ups who call the shots!