The Promise of XR and 5G

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For marketers, two of the more exciting emerging technologies today are extended reality (XR) and the advancement of 5G connectivity. While each is interesting in its own right, the technologies work together to create a whole that is much more than the sum of its parts.

As we approach the 5G era, the dramatic quantum leap of 5G service enhances many creative capabilities in XR, providing richer user experiences and giving marketers and developers a larger digital playground to expand their creative talents.

Still, there’s confusion in the market over how these innovations work and, critically, how they can work together. Let’s take a closer look.

Extended Reality

Extended reality is a term used by the industry to provide an umbrella for 3D, 360, Augmented, Virtual, and Mixed Realities. The two main categories of XR are virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). Within these categories there are subsets. 360 is a subset of VR, whereas mixed reality (MR) is a subset of AR. Broadly speaking, the difference between VR and AR is this: Virtual reality generates a digital world that is experienced by the user, whereas augmented reality actually enhances the world around the user.

XR is powerful because we live in a 3D world, but most digital experience is confined to a 2D screen. XR brings the promise of information where people want it and when they want it by mapping the web onto the real world and connecting real-world interactions to the web. XR has great promise in the marketplace as well. By 2021, the AR/VR market is forecasted to reach $215 billion worldwide. Revenue from VR device sales is expected to reach a hefty $85 billion by 2020, and MR could be worth $7 billion by 2024.

For brands, XR marketing offers an intriguing platform for rich, immersive, and engaging experiences for prospects and customers. This provides immense value and utility for consumers. And in many cases it can be a way to leverage existing content.

For example, a VR headset is the most immersive way to engage a consumer, but that 360 content can also be viewed without a headset on desktop, mobile, or tablet. The content assets are the same no matter where or how they are engaged.

Advertising in VR is already proving effective. Ads viewed in the immersive VR environment drive twice the brand recall of non-VR ad environments.

One attractive feature about AR for brands is that it requires only a smartphone for engagement; there’s no need for a headset. AR is enabled by a smartphone camera and digitally created 3D objects that are placed into its viewing space. Many have already experienced the technology with the 2016 viral mobile game Pokémon Go. AR’s reach then expanded with the release of Apple’s ARkit SDK and Google’s ARCore for Android, opening the field for development. Today nearly a billion devices are AR-enabled. We’ve reached mass scale and are standing on the edge of mass adoption.

Mixed reality combines AR with goggles, bringing it closer to the full VR headset experience and augmenting the real world with virtual objects. This will blur the lines between reality and digital. Examples of MR in action include enhanced sporting events where fans receive projected in-game information like team rosters, player stats, and even replays of the action.


5G is the hot technology topic this year. It might be getting a lot of hype, but industry insiders are saying the jump to 5G is the biggest technology breakthrough since the advent of the World Wide Web. It’s also expected that 5G will usher in the Fourth Industrial Revolution—the second such digital wave since the advent of computers and the internet.

Since the first commercial wireless call in 1983, technology has raced ahead: 1G brought voice to make calls, 2G enabled texting on flip-phones, 3G introduced data and apps, and 4G allowed for mobile video streaming. 5G will be a quantum leap in connectivity and speed over 4G. It will be up to 100 times faster than today’s wireless tech, and the higher data speeds allow for 1,000 times more connected devices on 5G’s high-frequency (30 to 300 GHz) spectrum.

How does this impact XR technology? All aspects of AR, VR, and MR are data-heavy, so the faster connections, drastically reduced latency, and increased number of connected devices with 5G allow for a more seamless and richer XR user experience.

5G is poised to reinvent the Internet of Things (IoT) and, with it, the entire XR marketplace. This will be known as the post-smartphone era as the focus shifts from mobile to the connectivity of everything. For marketers, this means an improved customer experience with next-generation XR, virtual shopping, cloud gaming, multi-channel mobile live streaming, and personalized user experiences.

Consumer demand for these types of formats is exploding globally, and the faster technology means marketers can take full advantage. The future is coming quickly, and it looks like dramatically extended engagement that is fully powered by game-changing wireless 5G technology.

Jeff Lucas is the Head of North American Sales & Global Client Solutions at Verizon Media. Lucas joined Verizon in 2018 after serving as global head of sales for Snap. Prior to joining Snap in 2016, Lucas worked at Viacom for 11 years, most recently as head of sales and marketing.