SAN JOSE, Calif. — Smart glasses — the Holy Grail for augmented reality — are still five to 10 years away. Before we get there, 5G will arrive, but it is not expected to provide as big a bump in spending as previous cellular generations.
The views expressed at last week’s Industry Strategy Symposium let a little of the air out of hopes for the two emerging markets.
Smart glasses will be “the next big compute platform replacing our smartphones…[but] it will take many significant silicon breakthroughs to make them a realty,” said Joe O’Keeffe who works on chip, display and sensor research at Oculus, the virtual reality headset maker owned by Facebook.
Someday such AR glasses will let users see virtual people and objects and provide services based on machine learning such as translating signs in a foreign language. “There will be a lot of gimmicks, toys and demos, but we are in the game of getting to an iPhone equivalent,” O’Keeffe said.
Smart glasses will need to track hand, head and eye movements and provide AI inferencing services in real time on milliwatt power budgets. They must perform computer vision and depth sensing tasks that cannot be done today in the form factor of smart glasses, he said.
The silicon for such jobs requires new process nodes, sub-threshold operation in complex SoCs, low power neural network accelerators and better chip stacking. Smart glasses also need new kinds of optics, displays and directional mics.
“The biggest challenge is how to get the user interaction model right — the equivalent of the mouse on the PC has not been invented yet for AR,” he said.
In a separate talk, a stock analyst warned that 5G cellular will probably generate a one-percent rise in wireless spending, compared to 3.5-percent increases that came with 3G and 4G. He attributed the shortfall to a basket of higher costs as well as shorter ranges for 5G links.
Overall, telecom equipment spending was down about 7 percent last year. Carriers who are “the buyers of 5G equipment are in a real financial pinch right now,” said James Faucette of Morgan Stanley.
The bandwidth of smartphone connections is on the rise, but data plan prices are falling on LTE today. Increasing the pinch, 5G will sport higher costs for backhaul, spectrum and base stations, he argued.
Shorter range, higher density and more costly siting for 5G towers drive costs above today’s LTE. Click to enlarge. Source: Morgan Stanley
Although a single 5G base station should cost less than an LTE system, carriers will need more of the 5G versions. That’s because they will generally have shorter range, and carriers will need to deploy high numbers of small cells to support high data rates promised for urban environments. In addition, costs and challenges for finding new base stations sites are on the rise, Faucette noted.
In China, the government is expected to help ease problems finding spectrum and sites for 5G towers. In the U.S., fixed wireless networks for last mile access to the home is the best opportunity for 5G, he said.
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times