5G & VR; How societies respond to changes to work, life, and power.

by Dave Zimmerman

Posted on January 10, 2019 at 1:30 PM

Virtual Zen Garden

Virtual Reality technologies are about to take a great leap forward with 5G network connectivity and is set to make huge waves as the global community enters the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a human movement which includes the fusing of technologies like Virtual Reality with other technologies like Biotechnology, AI, Robotics, IT, Blockchain, and 3D printing, resulting in a radical shift in social, economic and political practices. There are dozens of other factors which contribute to the this revolution, but as a disruptive technology, 5G will be instrumental in the fusion of a multitude of disruptive technologies together to make previously impossible feats, approachable to people, industries and governments.

The purpose of this essay is to explore the impacts of 5G networks on communication systems and specifically VR devices. Innovations in VR that will be reviewed include Collaborative Virtual Environments, Immersive Journalism and Social VR as well as their effect on how industries organise, organisations influence, and people interact. Through industry periodicals, reports, and news articles, this essay will investigate these issues, exploring the possible outcomes and consider responses to some of the challenges ahead.

The intent of this essay is to raise awareness and provoke thought on the myriad of possibilities, opportunities, and concerns involved with this movement of 5G and VR technology in the realms of work, political will, and social life.


In recent years, Virtual Reality (VR) technology has made great strides in development and is considered one of the disruptive technologies contributing to the Forth Industrial Revolution. Due to increased computing power, reduced size and weight of hardware components, and mobile connectivity, VR has been experienced by an increasing number of people. This increased familiarity has brought forth greater investment and innovation in VR content production. With the advances made in media content delivery, what is the next stage of development for VR?

The next generation of VR technology will take advantage of 5G networks to drive change in how industries work, how organisations influence opinion, and how people engage with each other. VR has grown out of the realm of entertainment to become a platform for training, simulation, communication and virtual teleportation. With a greater array of uses, VR has the potential to change nearly every aspect of how people engage with the world, each other and themselves as individuals. 5G has the potential to disrupt and restructure media and communications industries and is a fertile ground for the creation of entirely new industries.

As a combination of multiple HCI technologies, VR has benefitted from the advancements in any of its component technologies. For example, streaming of high-definition photorealistic collaborative VR content is limited by network connectivity and display technology. To this limitation, the transition to 5G networks will address latency issues, delivering data at speeds that will allow for the rendering of convincingly photorealistic virtual environments through which multiple users can engage, without compromising presence or agency.

Although 5G will resolve issues related to VR content delivery, the display technology within the VR headset will also need to improve to accommodate photorealistic dynamically rendered content. For this issue, eye tracking software will make the data streamed more user-specific and therefore more efficient when rendered in ultra-dense displays. The rendering technique, known as foveated rendering, displays the part of the image that is directly seen with greater resolution and clarity, while the parts of the image that are in peripheral vision are rendered at lower resolution. In a VR environment, this gaze-contingent imaging reduces the processing power needed to run, thereby improving performance, especially when displaying stereoscopic High Dynamic Range graphics at frame rates of 90 FPS and higher.

With 5G enabled VR content ready to render, ultra-dense displays within next generation headsets will make that content appear sharper and more realistic than ever. Many companies are racing to develop these displays for consumer use, including Samsung, Google, LG and INT, creating screens capable of displaying from 1200 pixels/inch to 2228 pixels/inch. The power of these hardware and software technologies coupled with the enhanced throughput and capacity of 5G will drive mobile VR to become a practical solution for new media like Collaborative Virtual Environments (CVE) and richly immersive real-time shared virtual experiences such as sporting events, concerts and cinema. For these experiences to be successful, 5G services like Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) will be essential for cloud VR, which will be able to support data rates of 100mbps, enabling 2K HD video to play with latency of only 5 to 8 milliseconds, ensuring a safe and stable VR experience.



Using 5G edge computing, VR applications will be able to offload some of the processing normally done by the VR device to Cloud VR services, which will be able to take on some of the computational workload. The adoption of 5G connectivity and cloud VR to process VR content will result in reduced system requirements and a potential reduction in the size and weight of VR hardware and devices, which would improve the sense of immersion and presence within a VR environment. Here are some speculations on the on how these technologies will impact societies at large.


VR and Work

Online collaboration is nothing new, with cloud-based editable documents of Google Drive and Microsoft’s OneDrive being common solutions to work, study and home management. From the conference call on the phone to group video calls over the internet, the world of work has eagerly adopted the myriad of communication methods to facilitate collaboration with individual workers. Now, with VR comes even more interactive and engaging ways to work with others remotely in the form of Collaborative Virtual Environments.  CVEs are Mixed Reality 3D spaces that allow people to interact online through avatars capable of text-based, audio and visual communication as well communication through body language and graphical gestures.

CVEs have the potential to disrupt how businesses market, interact and engage with clients with real-time modification and customisation of immersive experiences. For CVEs to breakthrough to mainstream workplace use, 5G photorealistic mobile VR will be essential. CVEs can bring clients from around the world closer to designers, architects, and engineers, thereby accelerating iterative design processes and virtual prototyping. With a VR headset, full-scale virtual prototyping will make physical models obsolete. This could have a positive environmental impact in the form of savings on materials to build the models and the travel costs to meet with clients in person.

While CVEs becomes more robust and vibrant, the processes involved in the production of VR technologies are ravaging the real environment. From the impacts related to the extraction and processing of raw materials, to the human costs of worker exploitation in the mass production of these products, to the pollution created in the disposal of obsolete hardware, the economic drive for the evolution of this technology has real consequences. Creating virtual worlds at the expense of the real world is unsustainable. In response, the Google Cardboard headset is a partially sustainable VR solution, but more environmentally-friendly and sustainable high-end VR solutions have yet to enter the consumer market.


VR, Power, and Political Will

Through smartphone technology and social media platforms, journalistic documentation has been democratised, resulting in decentralised anti-systemic movements like Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, and #MeToo. Stories and images can be presented to the public in near real-time allowing greater coordination within self-organising groups of people. The amorphic nature of these movements makes the directing, managing and supporting of them a new and challenging task for organisers. With little centralised leadership, the original meaning for a modern social movement can get lost in misrepresentation, misinformation, and disinformation and break down as quickly as it had formed. New media forms such as immersive journalism can help to control the narrative of a social movement by placing the viewer in the middle of the story. This form of journalism can have a lasting effect on the viewer’s world view and personal beliefs through an increased sense of empathy and understanding for the people and situations recorded in the immersive media content.

The impact of journalism on political will and public opinion is self evident. For example, in the USA, support for the Vietnam War radically shifted when newspapers and television brought stories and images of atrocities being committed to the American public. The reports brought to light contradicting and misleading statements made by the US government. The public’s opinion of the war took a downturn, and mobilisation of the public against the war experienced an upswing and would ultimately erode political will to the point of withdrawal from the conflict. After that war, journalists would be “embedded” within troops to appear transparent while managing the reports being released with more care. It the years following the Vietnam War, filmmakers told many stories of the war’s human experience, including “The Deer Hunter” (1978), “Platoon” (1986), and “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara” (2003). These films are critical of American jingoism and were not helpful in projecting a positive image of American power globally.

Immersive content can be consumed in three common ways; on a computer screen with a mouse to direct the view, in a VR headset with 3 DOF, and in Room-Scale VR with 6 DOF. In recent years, journalists and documentary filmmakers, using 360 video and spatial audio, have experimented with immersive content to “embed” the viewer into a particular scenario. This kind of immersive film making has increased in popularity in recent years, sparked by environmental issues, like global warming and the melting of glaciers, social issues like the prison system and its use of solitary confinement, and political issues such as the results of the 2016 US presidential election and the rise of right-wing fascism in modern western democracies.


VR and Social Life

As VR becomes more commonplace, its ability to disrupt social and communication services such as internet phone, video chat and text messaging, could further reduce the need for in-person meetings, and in turn, increase the use of VR for casual communication. The use of CVEs to work can also be extended to play, with Social VR being increasingly popular within the VR gaming community.  Although consumers of online devices and services have been made aware that user data is collected and stored, has that knowledge affected willingness to participate in social VR?

VR headsets can track what content the user is looking at, for how long, and some can record facial gestures, which all have the potential to be used for data harvesting and surveillance. As routine with most online content, cookies and web beacons are used to collect and store data. All of the major online VR platforms (Microsoft, Oculus Rift, HTC, Valve, Playstation VR, Google Daydream) conduct similar practices, having developed privacy policies when handling user data. Some of the data collected is used to customise the user experience, which might be practical in relationship to the software application. For example, location-based data might be necessary to provide language sensitive features and region specific software updates. Personal information is not used in these instances but is other cases user data is shared with subsidiaries and affiliates. This data is generally used for marketing purposes to measure user engagement, send user-specific content and targeted advertising. Tech giants offering VR services are multinational, with sites in many countries with differing data protection legislation. Data that is transferred from one country to another might be vulnerable to misuse without legal recourse. This sharing of user data is of serious concern to tech savvy consumers, like VR enthusiasts.

With increasing connectivity, tech giants aim to capitalise on the innovations that 5G and VR will power to harvest a wider range of user data. For example, Facebook has been a massive proponent of VR through its subsidiary, Oculus and their VR platform, Facebook Spaces. As a centralised VR platform Spaces has a great deal of control over the content that users consume. That, and practice of Oculus sending user data to Facebook, has raised concerns due to Facebook’s poor record on protecting user data.



How should societies around the world respond to this bewildering change?

CVEs can contribute great potential benefits to the workplace, but as an essential business solution, CVEs are still finding their place. As a tool to influence political power, VR has limited impact due to the same lack of workplace utilisation. But as a tool for influencing political will, VR and immersive journalism will compliment other forms of media. Use of social VR platforms could bring branches of society together to further debate and national conversation while facilitating the exchange of ideas and progress towards common goals.

The modern workplace could have more reasons to use CVEs as industry heaves forward into the Forth Industrial Revolution. CVEs provide great potential to bring workers together, and can also bring destinations to workers, allowing them to have luxurious breaks in exotic destinations for brief periods of time, relieving stress and clearing the mind. Team-building activities can be conducted through CVEs, strengthening bonds and improving empathy with fellow coworkers around the world. With increased trust in CVEs, working remotely could be a more viable option for people with family commitments, special needs, or for employees who travel frequently as part of their job.

To what degree immersive journalism can inform, shift opinion and change behavior is still being determined. The studies thus far have shown that Room-Scale VR immersive journalistic content has the most effective emotional impact on the viewer, leaving a lasting impression and increased interest in the subject. While users have shown to be more informed, the retention of facts and data is less effective in VR than by simply watching a video. This can be attributed to distraction or fascination with particular aspects of the VR technology, lack of convention or well established rules for navigation and interaction in VR, or inconsistencies in audio and visual cues used to draw the user’s attention. The most significant limitation to immersive content becoming an instrument of cultural, political and social change is the lack of distribution of devices and widespread everyday use. Without a massive shared common experience of the content and discourse on the topics presented, immersive journalism is still a deeply impactful personal experience. As a tool for the classroom, immersive journalism can facilitate learning by building learner interest in specific topics and improving motivation by leading learners to speak with one another about these shared experiences. 

In regards to Social VR, although Facebook has attempted to win back public trust through policy changes and televised commercials, it may be that social media and social VR can never be fully embraced by the public in a centralised structure. Without legislation to regulate use of big data by tech giants and governments, social VR can use immersive content to influence people in a number of ways, encouraging either socially conscious behavior or anti-social destructive behaviour, depending on the whims of the organisation that hold the data. Societies of the world have a lot to learn about VR, and the blind consumption of VR content could be problematic, in similar ways that social media has been to an unsuspecting population.



Convergence of CVEs, Immersive Journalism, and Social VR will have a titanic impact on the world of work, politics, and life as we move further into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. CVEs could become the conference rooms/design studios/laboratories of the future. The practical application of CVEs in the professional world is limited only by the proliferation of VR systems and the willingness of employers to implement them.

As people consume more immersive journalistic material, it’s potential to influence national conversations is likely to increase. In democratic countries, national conversations can mobilise of people to change the direction of political will and by extension, the exertion of hard and soft power globally. In regards to the application of soft power, the success of the American film industry demonstrates democratic resiliency through the promotion, distribution and celebration of critical voices and storytellers, thus improving the image of democracy on the world’s stage.

Social VR has the capability of being incredibly useful, fun and positive, but it can also be a breeding ground for destructive ideas and behavior. There are parties that are interested in using social VR to manipulate other people. In addition to that, the extremely sensitive and sophisticated sensors within VR consumer products can make a broad range of physical and behavioral data available to marketing agencies and other private corporations, as well as law enforcement agencies and governments, which could have broad implications to human rights and individual freedoms. 

To conclude, I feel that with 5G, VR could expand towards including the best possible sense of human activity that can be percieved. It could be used to produce any experience as a form of near realtime feedback. While this opens up human interaction to infinite possibilities, it could also a expose people to situations not unlike those experienced through current social media platforms, yet with even more emotional impact. In regards to VR, humankind is travelling into a new frontier. This frontier is as vast as the human imagination and contains treasures and dangers of our own creation. For this reason, we should tread mindfully into VR and carefully acknowledge each step.