Meet The Future: Low Ping Gaming Over The 5G Mobile Network

One of the most common gaming gripes in Australia is our internet. And while some are lucky enough to have reliable fibre connections, plenty of gamers either don’t have access to fibre, or even reliable copper.

Mobile internet is always an option, but anyone who’s tried to game on 4G knows that the connection and bandwidth is often unstable. The future 5G network plans to change that – and to demonstrate, Telstra held a showcase at their innovation centre in the Gold Coast with some Counter-Strike.

One of the advantages of 5G over the existing 4G/LTE network is lower latency. While 4G has plenty of bandwidth in the right circumstances, it’s the ping that’s the kicker. That makes a massive difference not just for gaming, but also a range of edge case scenarios that rely on precision and accuracy, such as critical surgery, autonomous driving, automated manufacturing and other industries.

In partnership with Ericsson and Intel, Telstra showcased the potential of their 5G network at the Telstra Labs in the Gold Coast. The carrier already rolled out 5G to an area of the Gold Coast for the Commonwealth Games, and with IEM Sydney having just passed, it was a neat opportunity to showcase the future mobile network’s use for gaming.

To test CS:GO, Telstra ran a local server through a WAN setup and connected four client PCs. Each PC was getting a stable 5-6ms, which is almost akin to playing directly on a LAN. It’s the kind of experience that you wouldn’t get at home, but it might be a setup used by tournament organisers for large events.

But I wanted to get a better indication of what a real-world scenario might look like. So I asked if it was possible to connect to a normal, Australian server. A couple of surf map servers sat happily at a reliable 20-23ms, and below you can see video of what it was like connecting to a random Aussie server through CSGO‘s matchmaking algorithm via 5G.

Online gaming has always been possible through 4G, but it’s never been consistent. Fans of StarCraft in Australia will know that experience well: major tournaments were often held at venues with no fixed internet, so organisers often used a string of 4G dongles in their place.

It wasn’t reliable, put simply.

But the idea is that the 5G network will help put that problem behind us. When devices start rolling out – speakers at the event from Intel, Ericsson and Telstra expected the first 5G-enabled smartphones and tablets to drop mid-next year – they will use the 5G and 4G network concurrently.

The lower latency obviously makes gaming a huge selling point for the 5G network, but there are a host of other edge cases: critical remote surgery, automated cars, automated manufacturing, defence applications, just to name a few. Livestreaming is another drawcard, and it opens up a lot of doors for grassroots esports tournaments with the ability to run small-scale tournaments off 5G rather than paying the exorbitant fees for venues with fixed internet connections.

Of course, one of the biggest appeals is the extra bandwidth. And while nobody outside of a lab will get the kinds of speeds in the real world, it was fun to at least see the potential difference between the 4G and 5G networks:

Adding 5G, mind you, is as much about adding support for existing growth as it is enabling future applications. The current mobile network is ill-equipped to support the growth of data, particularly the demands applied by streaming, in the years ahead.

It won’t replace fixed-line connections, and 5G is very obviously not meant as a replacement for anyone’s fibre or cable home connections. But the idea is that it will support the kinds of applications that the 4G network isn’t capable of supporting right now – and gaming is one area that Telstra bets will be of huge interest.

The author attended the event as a guest of Telstra.

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