A decade ago, the arrival of 4G mobile wireless brought new experiences to our devices, from streaming video to interactive maps. Now, 5G promises a whole new world of media experiences. The scope of what’s possible is about to explode.

The group of technologies known collectively as XR, or extended reality is at the heart of those experiences. It encompasses:

  • Augmented reality (AR), which overlays data and imagery on a real-life scene
  • Virtual reality (VR), which places the user inside a simulated digital environment
  • Mixed reality (MR), where real and digital objects occupy the same space

While display and processing technology has steadily improved, XR has long been limited by the capacity of networks. 5G holds the potential to remove those limitations. It can handle large amounts of data, super-fast and deliver it to many more devices at a time. New things, things we haven't even thought of yet, will be possible.

These new, immersive 5G experiences may have a profound impact on activities that are already economically and spiritually important to us, from sport to cultural tourism. They'll tap into New Zealand's world-class expertise in digital innovation. They'll challenge us to dream.

Changing the game

Sport has often been the place where we've seen new media experiences first – think Hawkeye, ball-tracking and the revolution in the way we've watched sailing since the 1990s. 5G could take the sporting experience to a new level, both at home and at the game.

Imagine a stadium with its own 5G network, where spectators can see what the players see in real-time, or know in an instant how swift the last delivery was, or how far a kick has sailed. Think about instant replays from multiple camera angles sent to thousands of devices at once.

Picture the magic of AR apps that conjure giant holograms of players and mascots, right there in the stadium. These technological advances aren't just possible; they're being trialled right now. What might New Zealand's best creative minds come up with?

It's not just about bringing magic to the event, but the event right into the living room. Could we take fans at home to the virtual sideline? What would it be like to be "on the boat" in VR with our America's Cup crew?

5G's huge data capacity, low latency and support for edge computing, mean ultra-HD immersive imagery can be rendered right where the action is. What was once only dreamed about is on the verge of becoming a reality.

Smart tourism

New Zealand's natural and human history lie at the core of our tourism industry. 5G enabled experiences could help bring them to life before our eyes. Travellers could visit the site of a historic Māori village and, using an AR app, tour the past, seeing the scene as it is now and as it was hundreds of years ago.

They could be guided through the experience by a hyper-real, autonomously animated digital human, who is both teaching and learning at the same time. This technology already exists but 5G data speeds allow an even more authentic human to machine connection, truly bringing sci-fi to life.

The data capacity and other key pillars of 5G have the potential to revolutionise our lives in ways we have not yet envisioned. Let’s visualise the opportunities and bring them to life.

Arts and culture

Many museums already offer different kinds of immersive experience, but they're typically available only to small groups at any one time. Current wireless technologies simply don't offer the capacity to connect hundreds, or thousands, of people. 5G could radically expand what's possible in a museum setting.

Imagine every painting in a gallery being available with an AR overlay, showing information about its creation and even previous versions of the work virtually "hung" alongside the present one. Or a VR "flight" alongside dinosaurs in a natural history museum.

Just as with sporting events, 5G may offer ways to bring onsite experiences to home viewers. Could we wander around the world's greatest museums with an ultra-HD VR headset? Or directly experience a live concert from the sofa?

Finally, it's not only about bringing existing culture to life but, potentially, whole new kinds of creative works. Imagine virtual art experiences, or concerts that embody holographic sound and images. What's possible? That's for the artists to decide.

Creative commerce

5G could help create new kinds of retail experiences – visually rich pop-up stores, deep product information, virtual "fittings". It might also usher in whole new business opportunities. Perhaps you can't be at a special family event: would you pay to virtually be there?

Online gaming is a hugely innovative and creative industry that’s about to change forever. 5G opens up high-quality video content streaming to devices where feedback feels instantaneous. Offering players on-the-go, multi-player subscription services is set to be a real game changer.

The creative horizon is expansive thanks to 5G. Where you go is up to you.

By Russell Brown