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Wearable Tech

5G and VR let me Spider-Man my way through New York

The game was an example of 5G's potential power.

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You use your Oculus controller to fire a web-shooter in this VR experience. 

Jide Akinrinade/CNET

I'm swinging through Manhattan, shooting my web at flagpoles, buildings and -- inadvertently -- a tree branch. I gain a little speed and altitude and start flying through the city.

It certainly beats taking the subway.

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While this virtual world places me in New York, I'm actually standing in Barcelona at the MWC wireless trade show. I'm in the Intel booth, wearing an Oculus Rift and trying out a VR experience tied to the upcoming Marvel and Sony film, Spider-Man: Far From Home. Unfortunately, it was created specifically for the folks here at MWC.

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It's not just a bit of marketing fluff -- OK, it largely is -- but a demonstration of how a VR game could work with a multiplayer component running over a 5G network. As I swing through the city, I'm racing another person in a second Oculus Rift setup 3,800 feet away at the Nokia booth.

The point of the demonstration is to illustrate 5G's low latency, or a real-time responsiveness that current 4G networks can't replicate. It's one of a countless number of demos showing off the capabilities of 5G. The topic has dominated the show as companies fall over themselves trying to explain how the next-generation wireless technology will change your life.

Mini 5G networks

After much hype, it's actually taking shape at this show, with a number of companies showing 5G phones and putting up tiny networks in their booths.

Such was the case with this demo. Intel had set up the Oculus Rift and PC and connect it to a radio, which sends and receives data from the 5G base station hanging above the booth. Because the convention center doesn't allow for these test 5G networks to spread beyond a booth, Nokia ran a physical fiber-optic connection to the Intel booth.

So the actual distance between the base station and the VR setup is likely 20 feet or so.

The 5G radio is using a higher-frequency 28Ghz band of spectrum, which is good for speeds, but bad for extended range. In this booth, however, distance didn't matter.

Swinging through Manhattan

The Spider-Man experience was created by Sony and specifically designed for the show.

The game lets you run or swing through the city with the aim of beating your opponent. You can push any button to jump, but the key move is to hold down on the trigger to fire off a web. Once it connects, you snap your hand back to engage the swing.

My first run was rough, and I constantly ran into walls or missed targets, falling to the street level. Getting some elevation again is a little tricky.

But I got more familiar with the controls in my second run, and easily smoked the competition. I got better at aiming at where the web would shoot, and how to keep the momentum going as shifted from one side to another.

Even while I was in the middle of the experience, I wondered whether this would get old quickly, since the only real challenge was to find objects to attach your web to, and occasionally aiming for yellow objects like flagpoles to get a speed boost.

I cleared the course in about 3 minutes, which an Intel rep said was among the fastest times.

Peter Parker would be proud. 

The story originally published at 5 a.m. PT on Feb. 27. 

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