Recently I stumbled upon an article mentioning 5G, leading me down a rabbithole of searches that left my mind blown. The first thing to understand is that the 5G standard, established by all the major telecoms working on it, aims for a wireless network with 10Gb/s bandwidth and 1ms of latency. That’s 100x the bandwidth and 1/80th the latency of current mobile internet (LTE). And the target date for this to be consumer available? 2020.
Trying to communicate what this means is like trying to explain VR to a VRgin. Most people wonder “what could you even do with that much Internet?” since the possibilities unlocked are truly transformative.
One of the most promising possibilities has to do with mobile 3D computing. Latency under about 20ms is generally imperceptible to humans, meaning devices will be able to contact a server and receive back information before a user can notice. So, imagine you have an AR/VR device with inside-out tracking; the device would capture environmental data, send it to the server for processing, then receive back the processed rendering information, all before the user could perceive a delay.
What makes this so amazing is that all heavy processing can be done in the cloud, which can be more easily scaled. Problems like VR rendering or AI speech processing can take place in server farms then, delivered to your mobile device with no perceptible delay. This would remove many of the performance constraints of mobile computing hardware.
One of the companies enabling this paradigm is Improbable, which is building a platform for infinitely scalable virtual worlds. The essential problem they’re solving is that of dividing processing tasks between multiple cloud servers. Sure, you can theoretically spin up as many cloud servers as you want, but dynamically dividing the tasks you need completed is no trivial task. Improbable accomplishes this by using what they call “workers”, which are servers designated to handle certain tasks. For example the first game developed with Improbable (Worlds Adrift) simulated a 25,000km environment with 4 million entities using 49 game logic workers and 625 Unity engine workers. If one area of the simulation starts to have more physics interaction (say, due to a massive battle), workers automatically adjust to handle the load.
Perhaps craziest of all is the fact that this MMO is being developed by a team of five people. Not only does Improbable make massive scale worlds possible, but it does so in a way that is accessible to smaller teams. The first VR project to use Improbable (Metaworld) will have an area of 10,000km and is being developed by a team of three people, relying heavily on IBM Watson and player-generated content to fill the world. As Improbable’s technology becomes more refined, MMO production will become easier and easier.
So, you can imagine in the world four years from now, with refined Improbable tech and 5G Internet, creative teams will be able to make mobile VR/AR MMOs with higher interaction fidelity than ever before possible.
Note: Is a speed of 1ms and 10Gb/s realistic? Well, since these are target rates, the actual performance will likely be less. 1ms latency is highly ambitious, and even if achievable runs up against fundamental lightspeed, limiting the distance of a signal from its source to about 50km at theoretical maximum. Additionally, many users using data in the same location makes 10gb/s per person unlikely. With this in mind, it’s likely we’ll see 5G wireless Internet consistently under 5ms with 1Gb/s of bandwidth per person. So 10x bandwidth and 1/16th latency. Still amazingly fast.