As much we take each generation of mobile technology for granted, its effect on the experiences we enjoy is profound. Rarely is this as obvious as it is with gaming, where increasing internet speeds have been transformative to how we engage. Now with 5G approaching ubiquity, we’re entering an era that will set the standard throughout at least the 2020s. Looking back over the last few mobile generations, it’s possible to map out what each iteration made possible, and how important 5G could be for the future of gaming.
Moving Through the Generations
Though we could start at 1G and 2G (literally 1st and 2nd generation), these early incarnations were so limited that they were essentially a non-factor to mobile gaming. Combine this with very little game support, and the few games that existed in this era being built-in, and these can be safely ignored.
Instead, it was the arrival of 3G, first launched in Japan in 2001, that gaming on mobile truly became viable. It was around this time that larger screens on phones became common, though their blocky monochrome displays limited the range of titles they could host. Standouts of this generation include Snake, and knockoff Tetris brick games. Early speeds of 2Mbps weren’t great by today’s standards, but since the games were so small and didn’t offer real-time internet play, it didn’t matter.
4G, first deployed in Norway and Sweden in 2009, was the first generation of mobile connectivity developed with an understanding of the then-new smartphone market. The capabilities of smartphones were leagues ahead of older systems, with full colour, high refresh rates, larger screens, and, of course, more processing power. This led to a revolution in more advanced and more data-demanding titles. Clash of Clans, Angry Birds, and Candy Crush all tested the waters, each aided by download speeds up to 100Mbps and decreases to latency.
5G Raising the Bar
The latest mobile generation of 5G was first launched in South Korea in 2019. With speeds up to 1Gbps and latency which was reduced to near cabled levels, this new system essentially delivers the fibre experience on the go. The only downsides are the limited range per tower and the somewhat lacking penetration power of 5G signals.
In terms of gaming, 5G again maintains the pattern of allowing more convenient larger game downloads through faster speeds. More important are the changes that have happened to responsiveness thanks to lower latency. This is evident with live games, which while possible on 4G, now run flawlessly on 5G systems.
A common example of this could be found in the live titles in real money online casinos. Websites like BetMGM lean heavily into these experiences, which require a constant and reliable stream of data to display their range of live games. 5G works to ensure this form of connectivity is simple, so they run without interference. The website tech is cutting edge, and 5G is cutting edge, so it’s a natural fit.
On an even more demanding scale are new games accessible through game streaming services like Google’s Stadia. These operate by streaming game data from a host computer, so anything over the bare minimum of latency would make the titles on this system like Doom Eternal or Cyberpunk 2077 unplayable.
Though we would expect a new generation to eventually usurp 5G, the need for this next step is still in question. For a long time, internet speeds have been playing catch-up to users’ needs, and with 5G’s continuing rollout, they’ve significantly surpassed what almost all users require. For this reason, 5G could be the longest-lasting generation yet, and if you’re a gamer, that’s a very good thing.