May 13, 2019
Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.
5G is officially here, and it’s poised to transform mobile devices, industries, and our daily lives.
We’ve entered a truly new era of connectivity — one that kicks off with multi-gigabit speeds and is expected to offer high reliability and support for a massive number of connected IoT devices that was previously unfeasible with 4G LTE alone. One of the most exciting opportunities presented by 5G is that it is designed to significantly reduce latency, whether you’re streaming a live VR soccer game, video chatting with a friend, or playing a game in virtual reality (VR). At Qualcomm, we’ve been hard at work for over a decade to make this possible.
So far in our series about 5G, we dove into understanding mmWave and how 5G will change our lives, from how we watch and shop to how we game and communicate. Next up is a discussion about how dramatically lower latency contributes to enabling these experiences.
What is latency?
Latency is gap time, or transmission time for a packet of data. We look at this in two ways: one-way latency is the time between when a packet is sent and when it’s received by the recipient, and roundtrip latency is the time between the transmission of a packet and the reception of acknowledgement.
One analogy we can use to understand latency is certified mailing with the USPS. Let’s say a package is sent to a recipient. Once received, the USPS sends a mailing receipt to the sender. In this case, latency is the time between the sender mailing the package and receiving the delivery receipt.
Latency has always been present in our connections. When you’re streaming a live event, like a soccer game, with a 4G connection, the video you’re seeing is actually slightly behind what’s actually happening on the field. This affects not just delivery, but response time too — the quicker data is transmitted to you, the quicker you can respond.
Latency before and after 5G
Latency has held back technologies and inhibited use cases in industries that are otherwise technologically ready for 5G. For example, boundless XR with 6 DoF couldn’t be possible with the latency of the 4G era. The same goes for remote control of critical infrastructure and machinery, like medical devices, that require extreme precision — even the slightest delay can be problematic in critical situations where there is no room for error.
Latency is also a significant pain point in cloud gaming, where it remains one of the biggest hurdles to a more captivating experience. Games are all about reaction time, and delay can cause you to miss your shot in a first-person shooter game or mishandle a turn in a racing game.
5G is designed to significantly reduce latency. Overall, this generation of wireless is expected to provide a 10X decrease in end-to-end latency. This can drastically improve current user experiences and open the door to brand new ones.
How the edge cloud connections come into play
The current architecture is a device on a network connected to the cloud, a setup that has unexpected latency. This is changing now with 5G. To fully realize 5G’s potential, the industry is shifting to a decentralized model.
In this new paradigm, intelligence is not just associated with a central cloud but instead is distributed to the different parts that form the wireless edge — edge devices and the edge cloud. With this distributed intelligence, on-device capabilities are required, including the need to move, control, and augment content processing closer to the end-device, namely edge cloud. This will help realize low latency for certain applications. Alternatively, it could be distributed deeper in the network, farther from the devices for latency tolerant services.
With the introduction of the edge cloud, on-device AI can work together with the advanced 5G network and the edge cloud to deliver even more low latency benefits, and thus new capabilities and experiences. Edge computing reduces latency because the processing happens closer to the user, eliminating the need to send the data to the cloud and back. 5G can provide increased capacity, lower latency, and a uniform experience, and as operators add more processing capabilities at the edge cloud, they can offer a platform for additional and new services. Similarly, 5G combined with AI will allow for split processing between the cloud and the device. Sharing the processing load is another tactic intended to increase performance and enhance user experiences.
Ultra-low latency in action today
At our Snapdragon Tech Summit in December, where we unveiled the world’s first commercial multi-gigabit 5G mobile platform, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Mobile Compute Platform, we began to see some of the benefits of 5G and ultra-low latency come to life. We along with our partners demonstrated how a patient could remotely work with a doctor on physical therapy exercises, just as if they were together in the office. They showed how the doctor can see the patient’s movements in real time, allowing them to make sure the exercises are being performed correctly. It’s all thanks to reduced latency.
More recently at MWC Barcelona, OnePlus showed 5G cloud gaming in the Qualcomm Technologies booth, allowing attendees to play Ace Combat 7. The ability to play on-the-go can be reality, as can multiplayer gaming experiences with almost zero lag. In the future, we’ll also see AR games powered by on-device AI.
We also demoed live broadcasting and streaming of high-quality video on LG 5G commercial devices. Additionally, there was also multi-view streaming on a Xiaomi device and high-quality video streaming on ZTE and Sony prototypes.
Rounding out the booth demos was live boundless XR over a 5G connection. With split processing between the device and edge cloud coupled with the high-bandwidth, low latency of the 5G connection, we showed how it’s possible to achieve a photorealistic, high-quality, immersive experience. 5G enables new services and applications, and it’s an important factor in making boundless XR reality.
Ultra-low latency in our future
Looking forward, one of the real-world use cases researchers hope latency improvements will make possible is remote robotic surgery. In this and other mission-critical cases, response time can mean a life-or-death scenario. But with the ultra-low latency provided by 5G, it’s possible that the precision needed to safely perform operations can be achieved to help people across the world receive life-saving treatment.
Autonomous vehicles are another use case that is reliant on the latency improvements made possible by 5G, specifically 5G NR C-V2X. This technology is designed to bring high throughput and low latency for direct communication capabilities, which will enable autonomous vehicles to share their perception of the road, road conditions, and surroundings with each other and infrastructure directly and efficiently. If a car is detecting a collision, for example, it needs be able to process this and react as quickly as possible. It’s also extremely important that it sends that information to other vehicles — and quick, almost instantly.
In significantly reducing latency, 5G is poised to improve our current technologies and make new experiences possible. By applying 30 years of mobile leadership, we accomplished what many thought was impossible to make this next generation of connectivity a reality and transform how the world computes, communicates, and connects.