Views of the 5G future: Through the virtual looking glass

“Presence is this idea that for a moment your subconscious really thinks you're in that virtual world, your real self is in there.”

Jeff Marshall, Founder, Ovation

These views of tomorrow are based on conversations with industry leaders at the forefront of creating the 5G future, as shared in iHeart Radio’s This Time Tomorrow podcast sponsored by T-Mobile for Business.

View 1: Connecting to space

When it comes to exploring the world around us with virtual reality (VR), today's applications have only scratched the surface. The promise of VR in reaching outer space has been the lore of science fiction for decades—and the true potential of that reality is nearly here. In fact, future 5G networks could help make new terrestrial and extraterrestrial experiences feel truly real.

Someone who knows all about this is Evelyn Miralles, former head of VR at NASA. One of her missions was to build an identical copy of the International Space Station where astronauts could train before shuttling to the real thing. When Miralles first started at NASA, astronauts trained for space using mechanical mockups and real-world simulations, built on the ground or underwater. But they were inefficient and expensive. So, Evelyn was given a unique mission: to train astronauts in VR. Looking ahead, Miralles believes future 5G networks could kick things up a notch. “Now if that real-time transmission gets better with 5G,” Evelyn hopes, “then we're going to literally be able to follow an astronaut in real time using VR.”

A few decades ago, just a handful of people could imagine using virtual reality to train astronauts for space, and if we look a few decades ahead, the role of 5G and VR technology goes far beyond what we can imagine today. 

View 2: Finding “presence” in virtual reality

One area where VR powered by 5G is almost limitless is its ability to bring people to other worlds. But it’s not just about entertainment. Around the world, VR is helping people learn new skills, cope with trauma, and even reduce physical pain—and it’s just getting started. Ovation, for example, is a company that’s preparing people for a very common anxiety: public speaking.

Jeff Marshall, the founder of Ovation, put painstaking effort into making the experience so close to being indistinguishable from reality that it does act as a sort of immersion therapy. Ovation hired real actors and scanned them into virtual lecture halls, conference rooms, stages, and more in order to provide a modular training experience. People’s heart rates do go up, their palms get sweaty. This is a phenomenon Jeff calls “presence.” “Presence is this idea that for a moment your subconscious really thinks you're in that virtual world, your real self is in there.”

The problem right now is that to render the most immersive VR experiences, we still need the processing power of computers and bulky headsets. And that’s where 5G could offer a solution. Lower latency and higher throughput connections to the cloud could make the experience of VR more immersive and more widely adopted to solve real-world problems. 

View 3: Life on the outside

5G with VR can have an impact on populations and challenges we wouldn’t normally think of—for example, reintegrating inmates into society. Right now, it’s being used to help former inmates adjust back to a life outside prison. Daniel McIntyre, director of Community Corrections for Pennsylvania, has developed an innovative VR program to help inmates prior to release.

Former juvenile “lifers” are using VR to prepare for their release back into the real world. Reintegrating is a slow and challenging process, because the world has changed for many inmates who have been incarcerated for 30 to 40 years. Things as simple as washing your hands in a gas station have changed drastically—think automatic soap dispensers. VR isn’t a solution, but it’s a great way to prepare individuals for novel experiences. 360-degree VR, in particular, can provide that sense of presence for these inmates, preparing them for the outside—cars, traffic, people, rooms, where they’ll be eating—so when the released inmates experience some things for the first time, it feels like deja vu.

The VR headset doesn’t make things simple or easy—reintegration is a long process—but it does provide a comforting touchpoint. 5G integration could make the experiences more seamless, and the low latency and increased throughput could eventually allow therapists or community managers to share the VR experience with inmates, guiding them through what comes next from the inside. 

Want to hear more about the connected future of manufacturing? Listen to “Through the Virtual Looking Glass,” part of iHeart Radio’s This Time Tomorrow podcast sponsored by T-Mobile for Business.

Want even more trends, insights, and success stories?
Browse our Business Insights hub