Mobile gaming is growing and 5G gaming could help speed up that growth. In 2020, mobile gaming accounted for 36% of all mobile app downloads, and users spent 296 billion hours playing these titles on their devices—a 35% increase over 2019. It’s no surprise that experts are predicting users will spend over $120bn on mobile gaming in 2021—up 20% from last year and 50% more than the console, PC, Mac and handheld sectors combined. Nearly half (46%) of consumers Verizon spoke to in March said they’d purchased or downloaded at least one title since the start of the crisis. And nearly a third (31%) claimed they spend three hours or more playing games on their mobile device.
But there remain challenges, largely revolving around the impact of latency, lag and jitter. 5G has the potential to minimize these common problems that gamers encounter. It should support more accurate gameplay and empower developers to deliver a new generation of immersive, dynamic experiences. The future of gaming is just around the corner.
What is 5G gaming?
Though the popularity of mobile gaming soared during the pandemic, performance challenges persist. 5G and the power of edge computing can help surmount these issues to unlock the potential of this rapidly expanding industry.
Put simply, 5G gaming leverages the power of the 5G network for gaming. On paper, that means faster speeds, lower latency and seamless, portable gameplay. The improved bandwidth and response times made possible by 5G gaming means edge computing nodes could handle the heavy lifting of data processing faster and more efficiently than if it were done on-device. It should also help device batteries last longer, mitigating another classic struggle for mobile gaming. Because these edge locations are closer to the user than centralized cloud datacenters, latency is even lower, further improving the user experience.
Why is 5G good for gaming?
Commentators often focus on the super-fast speed of 5G. However, for gaming it’s not the whole story. In fact, users will benefit most from the low latency possible with a 5G network for online multiplayer games such as Fortnite, and cloud gaming applications such as Xbox gaming.
Latency refers to the time it takes a gaming device to send data to the corresponding server and then receive it back. The higher the latency, the more “lag” experienced by the user. In other words, there’s a noticeable delay between the player’s input and the server’s reaction, which makes for a disjointed, unsatisfying gaming experience. Almost as frustrating for users is “jitter” (also known as “ping spikes” or “stuttering”), which is the fluctuation of latency over time. This makes for highly unpredictable gameplay which can make things extremely challenging for players.
According to Ericsson, the good news about 5G gaming is that 5G latency is expected to be significantly lower than 4G latency. That can make a major difference to the gaming experience—delivering smoother gameplay even with large numbers of concurrent users on the network. This is particularly important for competitive gaming. Where previously players with faster connections had an advantage, 5G gaming could level the playing field and encourage even more users to try their hand at e-sports, competitive first-person shooter (FPS) titles and other games.
Why does uplink and downlink bandwidth matter?
Connections are often described as uplink (from the end user to the network) or downlink (from the network to the end user). With many kinds of applications, it’s the downlink speed which is most important to ensure a good experience, as more data is received from the network than is sent back. Game file sizes for mobile devices can approach 10 Gb and for console/PC games, they can be 50 Gb to 100 Gb. Files that size can take a very long time to download on lower speed connections, which is why higher download speeds matter.
However, when it comes to gaming, both are important given the high degree of interactivity between user and content. It’s also true that uplink speeds that are not high enough can ultimately impact the downlink and time-to-content.