How 5G will supercharge gaming

5G gamers

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.

1) 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.

2) 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.

In recent times, we've seen game streaming grow in strength thanks to the likes of Google Stadia and GeForce Now. Both services mean you don't have to worry about possessing the latest technology. Instead, you can stream games through your smartphone, tablet or PC, even if the device is relatively dated.

While both Google Stadia and GeForce Now are currently pivoted towards attracting owners of low-end devices hooked up to Wi-Fi, there's no reason why this couldn't be done via 5G home broadband. Microsoft is slowly getting in on the act too with Project xCloud. Could there be a future where we play the latest Xbox games while on the move via 5G? It's certainly plausible. 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.

There are various suggestions of 5G possibly being implemented within headsets in the future. For instance, Qualcomm are supposedly working on a 5G VR prototype and Apple is also reportedly working on 5G VR glasses. Whether these come to light, it's hard to know right now, but they could change a lot for VR users. We've already seen devices like the Oculus Quest save the need for a PC or Mac to connect to, and 5G could make things even easier and eventually propel VR to the mainstream.

If 5G did the heavy lifting via the cloud, it could lead to 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 youre 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 dont need expensive hardware.

3) Mobile WiFi and 5G home broadband

As mentioned earlier, one of the great strengths in 5G is the fact that you can get home broadband without a landline and without needing an engineer visit. 5G home broadband and Mobile WiFi packages are growing in popularity for these reasons, giving you super fast speeds for your non-5G compatible devices. You can use these routers to connect your PC, Mac or games console to 5G and enjoy faster speeds than ever before.

The three forerunners in the field are EE's HTC 5G Hub, Three Home broadband hub, and Vodafone's Gigacube. In all cases, there's an upfront price along with monthly fees. If you're serious about gaming, it's worth considering.

4) 5G gaming smartphones

Any 5G smartphone is capable of playing games with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S20 range being a particularly good bet. There's also a growing trend in gaming smartphones with the RedMagic 5G from Nubia claiming to be the fastest gaming smartphone out there.

There's also the prospect of the Xiaomi's Black Shark 5G edition and the Redmi K30 5G Racing Edition, although for now, the latter is a Chinese exclusive.

5) 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.

5G Gaming FAQs

Is it worth upgrading to 5G if I'm a gamer?

If you're in an area with 5G, you will definitely benefit from switching to 5G based broadband. It means faster speeds so you can download files more quickly, and lower latency which should improve your experience when gaming online. Depending on your area, download speeds could be substantially faster than your regular broadband which means you can get back into the game faster post patches.

Is it worth buying a 5G gaming smartphone?

A powerful smartphone is a powerful smartphone. The Samsung Galaxy S20 is the best of the bunch even if it hasn't got a gamers tag attached to its name. You don't need a specific gaming smartphone to enjoy mobile games but 5G capabilities will definitely help when it comes to downloading files and enjoying less lag.

Should I hold off on buying a VR headset until 5G is implemented?

Right now, there aren't any concrete details about when a 5G VR headset will be launched. The technology is moving rapidly but that also means you could find yourself constantly waiting for the next big thing and never actually buying a VR headset. In many ways, using something like 5G broadband instead means you'll have the same benefits as a headset with 5G built-in.

I have 5G. Should I use GeForce Now or Google Stadia?

Right now, both services are offering free trials. It's the perfect time to try either. Also, both services offer different games and different pros and cons to what you can do. Give them both a whirl and see what works best for you.

Jennifer Allen
About Jennifer Allen

Tech/games journalist with 10 years of experience.

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