How 5G will supercharge gaming

5G Gaming

It has been safely established that 5G is going to change a lot about our technological infrastructure. Faster speeds, low latency, and an all-around better service make sure of that. But what will it mean for how we game in future?

From accessibility to performance and beyond there’s a ton of potential ahead. Here’s what you need to know.

Core Benefits of Gaming via 5G

Whether in the home through 5G home broadband, or on the move using 5G on a phone or tablet, 5G could be a really big deal for gaming.

Obvious reasons for that include speed and latency, which we’ll look at below, along with the other benefits.

 

5G

Fibre broadband

4G

Peak download speeds

>1Gbps

1Gbps

300Mbps

Latency (or ping)

~1ms

10-20ms

40-50ms

Landline required

No

Yes

No

Download Speeds

5G speeds are expected to improve over time, but even right now peak real world speeds reportedly top 1Gbps, with average speeds coming in at around 150-250Mbps.

Fibre broadband meanwhile theoretically tops out at 1Gbps – so already a slightly lower speed than 5G, while real-world speeds are far lower still – the fastest widely available fibre broadband package sold in the UK at the time of writing offers average speeds of 362Mbps. That does potentially top 5G’s average, but most people aren’t on this package, and again, 5G looks set to get faster.

4G is slower still, with theoretical peak speeds of 300Mbps, but real-world speeds that tend to top out at 150Mbps, while average speeds are in the 15-30Mbps range.

All that extra speed you’re getting on 5G now – and even more so in the future – could be a big deal for gaming, as it will allow you to download games and updates faster, play online smoothly and even stream games – more on which below.

Latency

Latency could be a big win for 5G. This is the measure of how long the network takes to even respond to a request, and it can really come into play with online games.

A high latency (though still usually measured in milliseconds) can cause an accurate shot to miss for example, because your opponent has moved before the network catches up with the fact that you’ve fired a gun.

As you can see in the chart above, latency over 5G has the potential to be far, far lower than over any other network technology.

Accessibility and Setup

At the moment, fibre broadband is often unavailable in rural areas, limiting the ability for some people to play online or streamed games, or even to download big games, but that's an issue that could be overcome by 5G, providing the networks install the appropriate infrastructure. Once 5G broadband becomes widely available, it has the potential to do a lot of good.

As it’s plug and play, and doesn’t require a landline, it will also mean that users who don't want to deal with engineers and home visits can easily set up their own home broadband connection while benefiting from huge speed boosts.

Other Benefits of Gaming Via 5G

As well as the obvious benefits such as faster speeds and lower latency, there are far more interesting ways in which 5G could revolutionise the ways games are played.

Cloud-based Streaming

One key thing 5G could really enable is game streaming. Whether that's through streaming specific assets as and when needed, or by streaming the whole game, it's a great way of making sure that none of us are solely dependent on our console or PC's hard drive. Less need for physical storage is always a useful thing for the average user, and also means no chance of a bottleneck situation via an older hard drive.

That way of thinking was recently demonstrated at E3 with Verizon's small presence at the conference, highlighting a recent games jam the firm held. It highlighted a series of simple to grasp games that also happened to showcase 5G technology. For instance, a simple 'dodge the android' style game that streamed assets as you played rather than requiring you to download them beforehand. Another title showed off lighting effects that were console-level in quality through a similar use of tech.

A combination of lower latency and faster speeds mean you don't have to worry about waiting for assets to download. It just works as seamlessly as if you were playing it off your own physical hardware.

Indeed, cloud gaming could have far-reaching potential. Potentially working like Netflix for games (which services such as Xbox Game Pass already have many similarities to), it could enable low-spec systems to still be able to play a high-spec game. That's even the case if the game utilises fantastical graphics and the system used to stream it is rapidly ageing, as the system you’re playing on won’t need to do any of the heavy lifting. Vodafone has already embraced such thinking as seen by its recent collaboration with YouTuber, Syndicate, using the game-streaming platform Hatch.

There's also the prospect of Google Stadia - Google's cloud gaming service that claims to be able to stream titles in 4K resolution via the company's data centres. Accessible through Google smartphones and tablets, as well as its Chrome browser, it's an ambitious project that requires a fast and stable internet connection to work effectively. Past projects such as OnLive have tried and failed at similar concepts, mostly due to issues with speed and lag. Something that 5G would solve.

A service that relies on cloud-based gaming and streaming would also most likely be subscription-based, making it far easier to budget for than trying to save up for the latest and greatest system. That's also without having to worry about hardware misconfigurations or the need to download patches that take a while. The concept of 'it just works' is always appealing and overcomes any issues of technical inexperience by the consumer. 

Virtual Reality

In a similar vein, VR technology would also benefit from cloud gaming. Currently, most VR experiences require expensive equipment to reap the full benefits. That's slowly changing with more affordable headsets from Oculus and HTC changing the landscape, but it's still an expensive outlay for many consumers. In future years, we could potentially see VR built into simpler headsets that connect via 5G to stream content, saving the user from the expense of headsets currently available. That's unlikely to happen very soon, but it certainly has the potential to make VR gaming more mainstream.

With 5G doing the heavy lifting in the cloud, this could also allow for lighter, smaller and comfier headsets than the bulky things we have currently. Massive VR game file sizes would also cease to be an issue – 5G could download them fast, but if you’re streaming from the cloud then no downloads would even be needed, saving you precious hard drive space.

Related to VR gaming, network lag has been found to be more stressful to players in VR gaming than regular gaming, so 5G could reduce such cognitive impairments.

In other words, 5G could help ensure players feel immersed without any lag pulling them out of the experience.

Augmented reality games could also benefit from 5G in many of the same ways as virtual reality – with the speed of the network ensuring experiences are smooth and don’t need expensive hardware.

Summary

It's fairly clear that 5G is going to shake up how we consume games. With such power comes great potential (as well as responsibility), and at its very simplest, it means we won't have to wait around as long for patches to download. Really though, that's the absolute bare minimum expectation of 5G we should have.

Everything within gaming is pivoting towards streaming and subscription-based services, and 5G is the perfect way of making this a reality that will work for both the consumer and businesses keen to keep users embroiled in their service.

For now, we need the infrastructure to be fully implemented across the country and for prices to become more affordable. It's a key area to keep an eye on though. 5G is going to revolutionise things soon.

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