Time to Get in the 5G Game?
2020 is going to be an important year for 5G. A year in which we hope to see additional 5G use cases emerge to spark the revenue growth that supports the ongoing investment operators are making. The same could also be said for cloud gaming, which had its first major outing this year with Google’s Stadia service, and which promises to allows gamers to adopt a Netflix streaming style approach to their games. Microsoft, Sony and Amazon are also lining up their cloud gaming initiatives.
Both cloud gaming and 5G represent major investment in projects/services looking to revolutionize their respective markets. In order to succeed in the short term, both will need to build a consumer base, develop an attractive business model, enlist industry co-operation and collaboration, and quickly build momentum. It’s no easy feat; and for 5G in particular, operators cannot wait for some other, more complex, enterprise and business services to emerge as they look for 5G revenue opportunities in the short term.
It’s interesting then that the key to the success of both 5G and cloud gaming could lie in their combination. In fact, Accenture’s Global Head of 5G, Jefferson Wang, went so far as to recently say: “5G and gaming need each other.” It seems that gaming could be one of the use cases for consumers that takes 5G from ‘just another step in the evolution’ of their service, to an absolute necessity that is worthy of a premium.
Is gaming in the mobile space a safe bet?
History shows us that since the release of the iPhone, the mobile gaming space has grown to become an important part of the overall gaming market. What’s more, the gaming entertainment industry is now worth more than $150 billion a year and shows no signs of slowing its growth. While some hoped that the iPhone and other mobile devices would steal a chunk of the market away from the traditional console and PC gaming market - that turned out to be a false assumption. Those markets continue to flourish and the mobile element has represented only incremental growth.
This is mostly because the games on phones couldn’t really replace those played at home, where high end consoles with huge processing power are needed by the heavy gamers. But the casual games genre of puzzles, word games, and mini-games such as Angry Birds attracted non console gamers to a new format, and also found favor among heavy gamers, adding entertainment to the daily commutes of all concerned.
The emergence of cloud gaming though, could change the market dynamic. One of the main reasons games designed for mobile are simpler than console games is because the smartphone simply doesn’t have the energy capacity and processing power to render the graphically intensive and complex worlds of the most popular games. Cloud gaming should allow that heavy work to be handled in the cloud, with only the part of the world you are playing in streamed to your device. And while it remains difficult to achieve a good mobile gaming experience, even using a very good dedicated Wi-Fi connection; a connection in a busy Starbucks, or over 4G, is never going to be bandwidth intensive enough or offer latency low enough to allow any proper cloud game play.
What gaming requires of 5G?
For cloud gaming to work on a smartphone, the network needs to deliver connectivity with incredibly low latency and guaranteed and assured bandwidth. Games are not like movies or YouTube, where buffering is a slight annoyance; in gaming, buffering is a deal breaker. When quick reactions and split-second decisions are needed in a game, a delay in your response, or in the delivery of the streamed video, is simply not acceptable.
Cloud gaming on a smartphone requires both low latency, guaranteed bandwidth and reliability - core capabilities that only a true 5G transport network can hope to deliver over a mobile connection. Today’s non-standalone versions cannot assure the speeds and feeds required, unless the gaming platforms are installed on all of the 5G NSA nodes which is of course cost prohibitive. Of course, not all services need low-latency, high-speed connectivity and massively rolling out that flavor of 5G would be both incredibly expensive and hugely over-specified for the vast majority of applications.
Slicing things up
However, the slicing capability which is inherent to true 5G transport networks enables the network to differentially treat different slices and allot each slice different SLAs that are dynamically allocated as needed. This means that the gaming platforms can be installed in strategic points in the network and the mobile users may be connected to the most optimized platform on the fly, using network slicing dedicated for gaming. The gaming slice can be given the bandwidth and processing power it needs to deliver low-latency gaming to any mobile gaming device. It is the most effective way for the network to maximize its physical and virtual network resources, as well as its connectivity and bandwidth in order to deliver different levels of guaranteed service.
Is it worth it?
With true, stand-alone 5G network technology and the use of network slicing, the cloud gaming consumer use case for 5G can become a reality. Service providers just have to get the timing of their network investment right to make that happen.
Operators that adopt true stand-alone 5G networks, and quickly embrace the concept of network slicing, will have real first mover advantage. If you sit back and wait for the perfect environment to emerge, you might be too late. Those that take the plunge early and include low latency capability in their mobile infrastructure, will be the ones best placed to really be leaders in the 5G game.
To learn more about ECI’s 5G Solutions, click here.