Power up! How 5G is taking gaming to the next level
In October and November 2023, Ericsson and Virgin Media O2 joined forces to bring HADO, an augmented reality (AR) esport, to towns and cities across the UK, with the aim of raising money for BBC Children in Need – a UK charity that helps disadvantaged children and young people.
HADO was the brainchild of Japanese start-up Meleap. It’s the world’s first physical esport, combining physical activity with virtual gameplay using AR. AR headsets and motion sensors allow players to see virtual energy blasts and shields, projected onto a real-world court. By moving their bodies, players can dodge the blasts and knock down their opponents’ shields. The team with the most points at the end of the game is crowned the winner.
Enabling HADO with the low latency of 5G ensures a seamless user experience and demonstrates perfectly how the gaming industry can be revolutionised with high performance connectivity.
Together, Ericsson and Virgin Media O2 visited eight different UK locations with a 5G standalone mobile private network. Allowing 50 teams and 160 players to experience an AR game with 5G connectivity for the first time.
The roadshow was an excellent example of how technology can be used for good to encourage people to get active, come together as a community and donate to the BBC Children in Need appeal, which this year raised £33.5 million in its annual telethon.
Pushing the boundaries with 5G standalone
This isn’t the first time Ericsson has worked with HADO to showcase 5G-powered gaming and immersive experiences. At MWC 2023, we demonstrated that gaming has no boundaries – no longer constrained by physical space or geographic location.
Using a 5G standalone network, guests were able to compete in the same HADO game in real time, but on different courts, in different cities – one based in Barcelona and the other in Madrid. As a result, HADO is now exploring ways in which it can open up the competition globally, so teams and players from across the world can play at the same time, on the same court but from different locations.
“5G has got some amazing places it can take HADO as we go forwards”
Jim Sephton, Managing Director, UK HADO
The potential of 5G to break free from geographical limitations also supports cloud gaming, an industry that’s set to grow significantly. It’s currently not available for all games, but as its popularity grows, cloud gaming services like Microsoft xCloud and Google Stadia, expect that soon people will be able to play any game on any device, wherever they are. With both the hardware and software hosted in powerful remote data centres, users will no longer need a console to play high-end games. All they’ll need is high-speed connectivity, ultra-low latency, capacity and guaranteed performance. This could be made possible in the near future by 5G standalone and a functionality called network slicing.
Network slicing: opening up new 5G opportunities
Network slicing is a self-contained, independent and secure part of the network that can be made available to support a unique service on demand. And it’s the perfect technology for online gaming, which requires high-speed connectivity, lower latency and a guaranteed level of connectivity performance.
The demand for these types of new services is already here. Our recent Ericsson Consumer Lab study, which interviewed 37,000 consumers across 28 markets, revealed that 20 percent of smartphone users are expecting differentiated 5G connectivity and they’re willing to pay an average premium of up to 11 percent for elevated network performance. The study also found that over the past two years the share of daily users of AR apps has doubled compared to the end of 2020. That means immersive experiences like HADO are starting to change consumer behaviour and drive new demands for connectivity.
Opening up a 5G-powered future market
Next-generation connectivity and gaming is therefore a match made in heaven. Growth in the cloud gaming market is expected to reach USD 8.2 billion by 2025 and the number of users is expected to reach 87 million in the same timeframe. That’s a big market slice.
Cloud gaming is one of the more obvious consumer cases for 5G, as it takes advantage of key characteristics like throughput and latency. But meeting the requirements in such a growing and demanding market will require a new way of thinking from cloud service providers (CSPs).
“The gaming industry is quite nascent and there's a lot of opportunity for international gaming, national gaming, and non-local gaming is the key. Having a network that will be able to support gamers to do what they want, where they want, with the speeds and latency requirements that they need to be competitive and relevant as a gamer is super important.”
Matthew Newstead, 5G Private Networks Project Manager, Virgin Media O2
With network slicing, there are opportunities to develop premium, or bundled, mobile cloud gaming services using different business and monetization models, and those CSPs that have already positioned themselves in the gaming market will be in a leading position to drive growth.
In some respects, gamers and CSPs share similar traits; they’re both competitive, always learning, and they want to win. And to win, you often need a special form of attack or a different approach, just like the famous “Hadouken” move from the iconic eighties video game, “Street Fighter”, from which HADO gets its name.
From where I’m standing, whether that’s in the same physical location or not, it looks like 5G is the button that needs to be pressed to make sure everyone wins when it comes to the future of gaming.
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