|Denis Brunetti, president of Ericsson Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos |
The first game streaming services were launched a few years ago. Initially, they were targeted towards console and PC gamers. Today, new opportunities to expand the mobile gaming market and further develop the gaming experience are emerging, with 5G networks and cloud gaming services becoming increasingly accessible on smartphones and tablets. The combined capabilities provided by 5G networks and edge compute technologies will enable game streaming services on smartphones with a quality of experience (QoE) on par with PC or console, and also open up for innovative, immersive mobile games based on mobility.
Smartphones dwarf console sales
Although the mobile cloud gaming market is still in its infancy, the wider mobile games market is already large. There are currently more than 2.4 billion mobile gamers globally, where Asia is the biggest market with over $41 billion in revenue. Mobile games generate about 50 per cent of total global gaming industry revenues. It is interesting to note that in 2019, 33 per cent of all app downloads worldwide were related to mobile games, accounting for 74 per cent of all consumer expenditure at the two major digital distribution platforms for the Android and iOS operating systems. The number of 5G smartphone users is forecast to increase from about 200 million in 2020 to over 3 billion by the end of 2026.
The strong growth in smartphone users and the evolving capabilities of 4G and 5G networks open a much larger addressable market for new gaming services. Some of the market drivers for mobile game streaming services include:
• continued strong growth of smartphone users;
• imminent deployment of 5G networks, with high user data rates, network capacity, and emerging time-critical communications, or ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLLC);
• increase of cloud data centres with large compute and storage resources (central, edge);
• increasing partnerships between communications service providers, edge cloud providers, and cloud gaming service providers;
• new cloud gaming services launched by new and incumbent (console) gaming service providers;
• communications service providers launching their own services;
• future development of new types of devices, based on AR, VR, and XR.
Mobile cloud gaming services from 5G communications service providers rising
There is a good number of 5G service providers globally that have announced the availability of mobile cloud gaming services on a separate subscription basis, or as a service bundled with a premium 5G data plan. We already see communications service providers partnering with cloud gaming providers to explore how both 5G and 4G networks can be managed and optimised to support high QoE.
Streaming games popular among 5G subscribers in South Korea
An interesting example of an evolving gaming market is South Korea. It is ranked the fourth-largest mobile gaming market after the US, China, and Japan, and has a strong gaming culture with professional gamers dominating in international esports competitions. With smartphone penetration among the highest in the world, smartphones have become the most popular gaming device. According to a 2020 Korean game user report, over 88 per cent of mobile gamers play games at least 2-3 days per week, whereas 44 per cent play every day. The average time of playing mobile games is 96 minutes per day on weekdays, and 121 minutes per day on weekends.
The three main South Korean communications service providers have teamed up with major international gaming service providers, offering subscription-based mobile cloud game streaming services. According to SK Telecom as quoted in the Ericsson Mobility Report, 5G subscribers are using game apps 2.7 times more often than 4G subscribers. To play games on SK Telecom’s own developed cloud gaming platform, 55 per cent of smartphone gamers use Wi-Fi and 45 per cent cellular connectivity.
Advanced gaming use cases with strong network performance requirements will drive a need for premium connectivity and edge computing capabilities. These capabilities could be offered by communications service providers directly to gaming providers, via or jointly with partners.
Higher network performance requirements as game complexity increases
Streaming games consumes several times more data than a video stream of equivalent quality. This is due to the need for faster video encoding, which helps maintain the required low latency during gameplay, but with a higher data rate. As games become faster and more complex, an even lower network latency and higher bandwidth will be required. More time-critical cloud gaming use cases, such as first-person shooter games and fast multiplayer interactions, will require 20-30ms end-to-end network latency, with around 99.9 per cent likelihood (reliability) in both uplink and downlink, for a quality experience. For an immersive VR gaming experience, the latency and reliability requirements are even more demanding.
A large part of total cloud gaming traffic is expected to be transported over fixed networks, as is the case for streaming video. However, 5G mobile and fixed wireless access (FWA) networks are also expected to carry a significant amount of future cloud gaming traffic
Cloud gaming represents the full potential of 5G for both consumers and businesses – gamers benefit from enriched experiences, including lighter and more affordable gaming devices, a longer battery life, and new immersive gaming experiences, while communications service providers get a wide range of new business opportunities. Advances in cloud and edge computing will decrease the need for high-end devices in order to play high-quality, collaborative games, removing an entry barrier to gaming and increasing the number of people who can access the enjoyment of gaming from our everyday devices.
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