This summer, Ericsson ConsumerLab released its very first edition of the Merged Reality report. This report provides an insight into how consumers believe Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) will impact physical reality as well as the key areas of day-to-day life that they believe will be changed fundamentally. The integration of VR and AR will transform the way we live, work and consume information; indeed, one of our key findings indicates that 7 out of 10 “early adopters”, smartphone users aged 15-69 who currently use tethered VR headsets at least several times a week, expect to see this change across education, work, social interaction, travel, retail – and media.

The effect of VR in media is already underway with Samsung alone stating that they have already sold 5 million Gear VR headsets. According to our study, early adopters expect to see the influence of VR take over in the next three years. Almost half of early adopters, and nearly a third of consumers that are planning on using VR headsets, believe that VR could replace physical devices such as TVs, big screens, mobile phones and laptops.

While early adopters already express an appetite for VR, we are now seeing an early indication of VR garnering a mainstream appeal. For example, the 2016 US Presidential election was broadcast in VR with viewers congregating to view it in virtual spaces across the world. The former US president Barack Obama also said farewell to his fans with a VR tour of the White House, while social media companies (such as Facebook) have created interactive apps that let you hang out with friends inside your VR headset.

Like most new technologies, VR is still experiencing some practical challenges which are currently holding it back from full adoption.

Currently, VR is able to mix realities but not merge them and it is widely believed that AR could be the answer to the mobility paradox. Ironically, VR lets you go anywhere but in actuality you can’t go anywhere with it. Unlike the necessary bulky headsets associated with VR, you can experience AR while still being able to interact with the real world, friends and family. Many expect this to lead to the development of lighter, easier to wear AR glasses with built in VR capabilities.

A stable, fast and high-bandwidth network is therefore essential for the industry to successfully blur the lines between people’s perception of physical and virtual realities. In the report, 30 percent of respondents felt that 5G would make these technologies more accessible through cheaper data plans, while 30 percent also believe that the high-bandwidth, less-lag network would enable tethered headsets to become wireless, increasing mobility further.

5G will also play a crucial role in reducing illnesses related to VR. The delay between the movement in the virtual world and the actual movement of the user’s physical body can cause nausea. More than one fifth of consumers planning to use a VR headset believe that virtual reality causes sickness and nausea, while staggeringly over 50 percent believe their mobility is hindered. Qualitative research conducted as part of the Merged Reality Report shows, for the majority, a direct positive correlation between the amount of lag experienced within the VR headset and the level of illness the user felt. Over a quarter of the early adopters believe that a network that minimizes lag in responses, such as 5G, could solve these issues.

The report shows a clear consumer appetite for these immersive technologies – particularly for the TV and video viewing experience. However, to bring AR and VR to the mainstream, there are clear barriers that need to be overcome first. Looking to the future, the introduction and development of 5G will be pivotal to the continued development of these technologies. Only with a fast and high-bandwidth network will it be possible to create a world in which consumers can transition effortlessly between the virtual and physical worlds.

Steve Plunkett, CTO, Broadcast and Media Services