Powering Cloud Gaming with 5G Networks

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Spotlight on Cloud Gaming | TelecomDrive.com

Everyone from operators and vendors to analysts and market forecasters agree that cloud gaming is set to be really important for 5G, and vice-versa.

But what do gamers themselves think, and what do they expect from this technology? How aware are they aware of the capabilities of 5G, and is it something they’re eager to leverage?

We commissioned research with 5,000 dedicated hardcore gamers (defined as players who typically put in more than three hours gaming every single day before the pandemic) across five countries. Across the group, the average amount of time spent gaming was 3 hours and 40 minutes per day, with just over 20 per cent of the group spending more than five hours a day on gaming.

 

That time increased dramatically during periods of local lockdowns and social distancing measures, with the number of gamers playing more than five hours a day almost doubling to 43 per cent. Additionally, the average gaming time went past four hours with more than three-quarters of the gamers spending at least that amount of time playing games every day.

There is no doubt that these are the very people that operators need to reach with 5G gaming services. The good news we uncovered for the operator community is that these gamers are very 5G aware. Even better news is that they are deeply committed to their gaming habit, and willing to invest in order to improve their experience. The less good news is that the vast majority of today’s 5G networks are not setup to deliver the services that gamers are looking for.

Nearly all the 5G networks deployed around the world have been of the ‘non-stand-alone’ variety, where the 5G radio path uses existing supporting infrastructure and is not capable of delivering the network slicing capability that has long been touted as one of the key differentiators of a 5G network.

The gaming experience, and the cloud gaming experience even more so, depends on a low latency connection. One of the great advantages of 5G networks is that they are architected to deliver network slicing with guaranteed levels of service within each slice. However this capability is only available in stand-alone 5G networks, built on packet optical transport infrastructure designed to handle slicing and deliver end-to-end low-latency connections. Without that infrastructure, the hardcore mobile and cloud gaming market will remain out of reach.

The question then becomes: is this market worth reaching? Our survey says yes. Hardcore gamers spend, on average, around $84 per month on their broadband and mobile connectivity combined. And what should really grab the operators’ attention is that four out of five of them would seriously consider swapping their existing broadband and mobile contracts for a 5G mobile service if it offered a better connection and lower latency.

Furthermore, 95 per cent of that group were prepared to pay significantly more every month for the improved experience. In fact, some 60 per cent said they would spend at least half as much again – that’s more than $120 per month for 5G to replace their existing home broadband and mobile contracts.

These dedicated gamers know what they want from 5G and are well informed about the service they receive. They know their exact ping rates, and they also know that if latency on a connection exceeds 30 milliseconds, the gaming experience suffers. Diving deeper, only 7% of the gamers we surveyed believed their current connection consistently delivered the optimal low latency rate of ten milliseconds required to enjoyably play cloud gaming. Additionally, a sizeable 83 per cent believed that a 5G connection would make cloud gaming a much more compelling experience.

They are not wrong. Stand-alone 5G networks are capable of exponentially outperforming the gamer’s current mobile and fixed connectivity experience, providing faster download speeds and latency as low as one millisecond. These gamers are well aware of this potential performance boost and some 58 per cent of them said they would switch to a 5G service provider offering a high-quality bundled gaming subscription as soon as they could.

Bundling a gaming subscription with a 5G contract adds further potential revenue fuel for the operators. After all, if you examine their spend on games, subscriptions, connectivity, and accessories combined, our hardcore gamers were investing a total of $260 each month.

The global gaming market is massive, with some 2.7 billion ardent gamers in the world, and we estimate the revenue opportunity from 5G gaming connectivity alone is worth an extra $150bn a year for the service provider community. That’s before you add the opportunity for service providers to bundle a cloud games subscription, or develop partnerships with gaming companies, into the service packages. Then the rewards get even bigger.

All of which means that – after speaking to the actual users – our view is that everyone was right: gaming is a vitally important 5G market. But to reach it requires a step change in the investment strategy. Non-stand-alone 5G does not unlock that market. To reach that latent, and currently unfulfilled demand for mobile and cloud gaming, service providers need to invest in network slicing, in a packet optical transport infrastructure to support it, and in full stand-alone 5G networks.

This article appeared in the December issue of Disruptive Telecoms


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