Apple’s ARKit: Will networks cope with the bandwidth demands?

As developers introduce AR solutions for Apple’s powerful iOS 11 platforms, will carriers be able to handle the bandwidth demands?

Apple, bandwidth, network, iOS, iOS 11, ARKit, augmented reality

New net neutrality rule proposals mean the internet will inevitably become balkanized, while reactionary and ill-thought-through "anti-fake-news" attempts seem likely to funnel traffic to a few so-called "legitimate" sources. However, even within this alternative internet reality, can carriers cope with the coming demands of augmented reality (AR)?

Pounding the petabytes

Cisco says video traffic accounts forover two-thirds of global internet traffic. This is expected to reach 82 percent by 2021.

Even in the current environment, the strain of carrying this traffic is stretching existing network infrastructure, driving investment in different technologies to supplement what is there already: white space transmissions, side-loading traffic to Wi-Fi networks, satellite, powerline internet and the rest.

Think about how ARKit technology will work:

You won’t be just immersing yourself in virtual worlds when you are in your home; you’ll be accessing these AR apps to augment your day when you are on the move. You’ll become increasingly addicted to AR-based social networks that let you share in what your friends are doing, even if this does come down to pictures of animals and what you are eating for lunch.

You’ll want your Apple AR to be mobile.

Will you download an ARKit app?

There’s a question of scale to think about.

The day Apple ships iOS 11 is the day we will see hundreds of millions of iOS users rush to download ARKit apps to see what they can do. There is just no rational way to ignore the high level of interest consumers have in this new tech now that it is reaching mainstream audiences in this way.

I’m curious to see how the networks hold up once iOS 11 ships and we all begin to download whatever AR apps are made available then — I can still recall the strain they felt when Apple shipped iOS 5. That day will be the first big test of the network’s readiness to handle the newly added demands of AR.

In the future, as usage inevitably expands (probably exponentially) we may see some carriers struggle (or claim to struggle) to meet these enhanced bandwidth demands.  

They do have a right to some concern. Juniper Research predicts wireless VR will generate an additional 21,000 petabytes of traffic by 2021 — the equivalent of over 3 billion hours of 4K video streaming.

Not all of this traffic will be carried over mobile networks, but it will create an additional strain — particularly if Apple’s AR platform becomes as widely used as I believe it will.

What are the risks with AR/VR?

Some readers may recall the early days of online video. Those days were characterized by dropped frames, unexplained freezes, low-quality images and the like. That’s not going to be acceptable for AR/VR applications as incidents like these will erode the end user experience, and we know that Apple focuses on that above all else.

In the future, as these solutions develop, we will see growing demand for fast data speeds and consistent network performance. Image quality will climb, frame rates will increase — and networks will need to handle the strain. This is video PLUS.

In response, I imagine some networks will try to introduce guaranteed service quality deals for heavy VR users, particularly for enterprise users, but we should also see even more focus given to investment and development of technologies — such as 5G — that can scale to support billions of devices and the high traffic demands of a connected, augmented planet.

Solutions, Inc.

I see Apple’s move to adopt HEVC and HEIF in iOS 11 as part of this response, as both technologies enable high-quality images and other information to be transmitted in significantly smaller files — so it’s good to think the company is considering how to reduce the demands of its soon-to-blossom VR empire.

However, as data capacity demands continue to grow, it will be interesting to see if the company plans any other forms of response, particularly as the data demands of connected devices — and autonomous vehicle systems — loom into view.

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Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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