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11.18.18
Virtuality

Never Heard of Edge Computing? It’s About to Make Augmented Reality Way Better.

September 14th 18__Kristin Houser__Filed Under: Virtuality
Adobe Stock/Victor Tangermann

AR DISAPPOINTMENT

So far, augmented reality (AR) has not lived up to its promise (see: Magic Leap’s disappointing headset). But just two innovations — 5G networks and edge computing — could change all that. That was the gospel AT&T preached during its Spark technology conference on Monday, at least.

You’ve probably already heard about 5G. It’s the next generation of high-speed cellular networks, and everyone and their mother (plus, you know, Futurism) has been anticipating its arrival for years.

You may not be familiar with edge computing, though. It’s time for that to change.

LIVING ON THE EDGE

Many of the devices we use today do their processing in “the cloud.” That really just means the processing happens at a massive data center owned by Amazon, Microsoft, or some other cloud provider, and not right on your device.

Reaching these data centers takes time, though, and we experience that delay as latency. This can be a major issue for AR devices, which need to be able to process data in near-real time in order to deliver worthwhile experiences.

To get around this issue, AT&T and other companies are turning to edge computing. Essentially, networks of smaller data centers (“cloudlets”) process some information physically closer to the source and send the rest on to the bigger data center if necessary. The result: less latency, and a better AR experience.

NEW TESTS

“Now you can think about placing low-latency, complex application and computation power closer to the users,” Igal Elbaz, AT&T’s Senior VP of Wireless Technology, said during Spark, as reported by Fierce Telecom. “By improving the functionality and the user experience, we can actually unleash some of the new business models that we all talk and hear about like AR, VR, self-driving cars, drones, mobile gaming, and others.”

So far, AT&T has just one edge computing test zone (in Palo Alto, CA), but it plans to expand that to the entire San Francisco Bay area. Eventually, “cloudlets” could blanket the entire nation, ensuring that the AR experience of tomorrow is nothing like the disappointing one of today.