Since the beginning of the global 5G roll out, many operators have touted VR as one of the leading use cases for new technology. As someone that has deep knowledge of both VR and 5G, I initially believed this to be a pie-in-the-sky ambition. While some operators like Deutsche Telekom launched VR streaming services, they were very limited in terms of content and applications. At the end of the day, there simply wasn’t a big enough VR headset install base to justify an entire service and we saw players like NextVR come and go. However, with the growth of enterprise VR and the availability of T-Mobile’s Ultra Capacity 2.5 GHz Mid-Band 5G, we may now be at a turning point.
For example, VictoryXR, T-Mobile and HTC Vive recently partnered to deliver a 5G-powered VR cadaver lab to Fisk University, a HBCU (Historically Black College and University) located in Nashville, TN. Fisk University already has access to T-Mobile’s Ultra Capacity 5G network, which means that T-Mobile didn’t even have to build a specific network just for this use case. There’s no need for mmWave for this application like you would see from Verizon and T-Mobile says that they didn’t have to do anything special to their network to enable this new use case.
What’s in the lab
The VR lab runs VictoryXR’s Unity Pro platform on HTC Vive’s latest Vive Focus 3 VR headset powered by Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon XR2. While this VR headset does not have its own 5G connection, it is the best mobile VR headset on the market today with the latest and greatest display, processing and wireless technologies. Fisk University and VictoryXR started with a cadaver lab is because cadavers are traditionally very expensive for universities, cadavers can cost universities thousands of dollars per cadaver and are limited to a certain number of medical students at a time. With a virtual cadaver lab, students can get access to as many cadavers as they would like, as many times as they would like, with extremely high, photorealistic detail and interactivity. The high resolution of the HTC Vive Focus 3 enables some incredibly realistic visuals and nearly photorealistic experiences that can finally compete with having a real cadaver in front of a student.
Initially, this experience was not possible with Fisk University’s previous internet connection, so T-Mobile’s Ultra Capacity 5G network was the solution. The headsets connect over Wi-Fi to an Inseego 5G router. Then the router taps into the 5G network, enabling the low-latency and high-speed connectivity needed for an interactive multi-user VR experience. Combined with T-Mobile’s Ultra Capacity 5G, Fisk University’s VR cadaver lab can now support up to 20 students in the lab at a time. Fisk University also plans to use this infrastructure to offer surgical training, comparative learning between humans and animals and microbiology at the cellular level. Additionally, the collaboration will allow Fisk University to offer VR history courses that transport students to the places and time periods they are learning about.
VR education gets real
I had a chance to try out the cadaver lab myself, remotely from the comfort of my own home and through my own VR headset. The experience was very hands-on and easy to use. That said, I believe that Fisk University will keep these VR headsets, at least initially, to the area where T-Mobile’s 5G is available via hotspot to ensure a quality experience. Maybe down the road, once headsets like HTC’s Vive Focus 3 have built-in 5G, they can offer them to students for use from anywhere. The potential is endless, and it’s great that we’re seeing these early concrete applications of VR and 5G at work in our educational institutions.
It is very refreshing to see a carrier like T-Mobile displaying real-world use cases for VR using 5G and enabling it with established partners like VictoryXR and HTC Vive for a forward-thinking institution like Fisk University. I’d like to see more universities follow Fisk University’s lead in deploying XR with 5G, starting, like Fisk, with pre-med and biology labs and possibly expanding beyond that as content and familiarity with VR grow. It seems that Fisk already has a lot of plans for VR in education and the applications are almost limitless when you consider the capabilities of VictoryXR’s platform paired with the HTC Vive Focus 3 and T-Mobile’s 5G network.