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Gaming-as-a-service set to emerge as a 5G killer app

Client-based gaming may soon be a relic of the past… assuming service providers deliver the necessary low-latency specs to make gaming as a service (GaaS) take off

Will 5G gaming be one of the first killer apps of next-generation mobile networks? Will 5G revolutionize how and where gamers experience their gaming worlds? If the answer turns out to be “yes”, this should play out (yes, pun intended) in three phases. 

  • Phase 1: Better play through lower ‘ping’
  • Phase 2: GaaS enters the scene
  • Phase 3: Winners take all

Let’s briefly frame up what each of those phases means, and then get into the potential obstacles in the way and how service providers might defeat them to emerge victorious. 

Phase 1: Better play through lower ping – how 5G improves game play and ushers in the gaming as-a-service (GaaS) era

In popular games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (aka PUBG) and Fortnite, the ‘world’ is hosted in the cloud, and the player’s locally installed instance of the game (running on a powerful PC) acts as the rendering engine. Data about the buildings and other objects in the world, the player’s position, and their action goes back and forth between the cloud and players’ computers where it is rendered locally.

A home broadband connection is sufficient for this setup. But gamers are always trying (through the equipment they purchase) to get the lowest possible latency or ‘ping’ between local infrastructure and the cloud. These games can tolerate up to 150 milliseconds of delay, but for a hardcore gamer getting that down to, say, 5 milliseconds on existing equipment would really improve the experience. This will be delivered with mmWave 5G home internet deployments. 5G low latency makes better play through the lowest ‘ping’ possible – this is phase 1. Gamers will be pressuring bill payers (that’s you!) to “make the switch”!

But there’s a more significant, potentially transformative, interrelated set of factors at play here: mobility and the cost of gaming equipment. While it’s unlikely anyone will ever play intense, first-person-shooter style games on mobile phones, imagine if it were possible to engage in these online worlds from a $500 laptop or even a tablet—instead of a $2,000 gaming rig!

The ultra-low latency and sustained bandwidth of 5G would change gaming out of the gate by ushering in phase 2, the era of Gaming-as-a-Service (GaaS).  

Phase 2: GaaS enters the scene

With GaaS, the cloud would not only keep track of what’s happening in the game world, but also spin up compute and graphics resources, generate client visuals, and send this data to the endpoint. Assuming sufficient, sustained bandwidth existed, this would make it possible to play 4K games on a laptop. Or more importantly, on almost any screen keyboard mouse combination. Gamers could even play on grandma’s computer! 

What’s sufficient bandwidth? Oh, let’s say 35 Mbps for a 4K HDR game at 60 frames per second. 

5G’s promise of sustained lower latency down to 1 millisecond and higher bandwidth up to 1 Gbps are essential for GaaS. The heroes of this game are 5G’s distributed architecture and the mobile edge capacity it creates. The application here for mobile edge computing (MEC) is to take the hardware/load doing the rendering for the game and place it in a data center local to the player. The closer that data center is to the player, the lower the latency. In a run and gun battle, every millisecond matters—and has value to the player. 

The service provider and game provider partnerships that are first to market with GaaS will be the phase 3 winners that take all! (In a manner of speaking) 

Critical to success here is a commonly understood trust model for performance, previously called assurance tools, that guarantee performance to the player as well as between each of the partners deploying the service. The diagram below outlines what this architecture may look like, and how the assurance trust model functions to deliver winning speeds for your epic Friday night run and gun battle.  

Ensuring ultra-low latency for hardcore gamers—allowing your customers to purchase assured speeds for their next Battle Royale is one potential new revenue stream opportunity

Phase 3: Winners take all – who will be the 5G GaaS heroes? 

The era of 5G is the first time a wide area wireless technology will operate at the latency, speed, and capacity of human senses. This is a game changer, and only mobile operators can deliver it. 

But how will operators monitor, manage, and prove the sustained low-latency performance and bandwidth of GaaS-compatible 5G service? Given the sheer number of simultaneous gamers and sessions involved, the only winning strategy will be built on an extremely efficient, automated performance management process. 

Several factors must be considered:

  • Performance visibility into every endpoint, segment, and slice
  • Ability to analyze underlay and overlay service layers
  • Real-time analytics to correlate network performance and end user experience

A multi-layer monitoring approach is obviously required. This will incorporate machine learning capabilities that interact with service orchestrators to automate and monitor resource allocation for each client and game running on the cloud.  

The basic requirements are:

  • Use software-based data collection (additional hardware only where existing architecture lacks key performance monitoring standards support)
  • Measure performance down to 1 millisecond granularity
  • Correlate data from multiple vendors and sources to understand the gamer’s ‘real’ experience

As operators jockey to become forerunners in 5G gaming connectivity, those who pull all this together with the right partners and get it right from the get-go will capture the first generation of GaaS customers. Will that be you?