BARCELONA—Together with Nokia, SK Telecom, South Korea’s telco giant, demonstrated live 20.5 Gbps transmission speed over the air here at the Mobile World Congress. To put it in context, that’s a 200 times faster data speed and 1,000 times more data capacity than any current 4G LTE network offers.
Carriers and tech suppliers, looking to create diversified revenue streams, are staking 5G claims. Their plunge into 5G is something we all understand and we can explain.
But what’s in it for consumers?
That’s a much harder question to answer—even by operators. Consumers definitely need more convincing.
SK Telecom booth
In describing SK Telecom’s 5G test bed and “virtual experience” center, Alex Jinsung Choi, CTO, SK Telecom, during his keynote presentation, talked up a number of potential applications. They ranged from 4K Ultra HD live broadcast, 360-degree Virtual Reality (VR) live streaming to remote Augmented Reality (AR) and teleoperation of a 5G humanoid.
Certainly, VR live streaming, for example, would require very high data rate with no latency. With 5G, it’s also possible to build a 4K UHD live production system that requires no relay equipment.
We get that.
But beyond the support of massive IoT devices and mission-critical vehicle-to-vehicle/vehicle-to-infrastructure applications, is this the operators’ 5G vision for the best use of 1,000 times data capacity?
We have doubts.
But in walking around the show floor where SK Telecom and Korea’s two consumer electronics giants—Samsung and LG both—have nearly adjacent booths, we notice their unmistakable push for AR and VR, in addition to a new generation of camera gears.
Consider Samsung’s Gear 360, announced at the show alongside the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. The tiny, double-lensed sphere of a camera is designed to make shooting and sharing 360-degree photos and videos easy. Samsung is immersing itself into the nascent 360-degree imaging market.
Ian Fogg, head of mobile analysis at IHS Technology, called Gear 360 “critical to help Samsung to persuade consumers it is time to upgrade their two or three year old smartphones, which cannot benefit from new VR experiences teased by the Gear 360.” He noted that “In effect, Gear 360 is a marketing vehicle for the Galaxy S7, as well as for Samsung's Gear VR headset.”
Trying out LG's VR gear
LG is also offering 360-degree VR camera accessories and 360 VR headsets.
As Fogg explained, “The smartphone is increasingly the hub for consumers' digital lives. And, because of the challenges of generating profits from smartphone hardware alone, smartphone makers are increasing their expansion into adjacent smart accessory markets.”
Perhaps something similar can be also said about SK Telecom’s service expansion strategy. Positioning themselves at the core of consumers’ digital lives, the carrier is angling to offer diversified services to diverse applications.
Going beyond providing communication services centered on voice and data, SK Telecom now says that it’s focused on “adding value to customers' lifestyle by offering innovative ICT (information and communications technology) converged services.”
In the following pages, we’ll share some 5G-related gear and applications spotted at SK Telecom’s booth in addition to the stuff Samsung and LG are strutting in their booths at the Mobile World Congress this week.
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Gear VR Theater with 4D
Samsung offers a hands-on experience with Gear VR. Attendees, after a long queue, put on headsets and sit on special rocking seats. Oblivious to how they look to the rest of us, the audience in the Gear VR Theater is clearly immersed in another world.