Singtel to push forward with 5G cloud gaming trial

In partnership with Razer and Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), Singtel is testing the readiness of its network to capitalise on the fast-growing cloud gaming segment.

As a concept, cloud gaming is attracting a lot of attention in the industry and is attempting to wrestle the crown of go-to 5G usecase away from robotic surgery. Now it seems the Singapore consortium is getting in on the act with its own trials.

“While this is not the roll out of a commercial cloud gaming service, this opportunity is the first step for Singapore to spearhead 5G projects,” said Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan.

“5G is a literal game-changer when it comes to cloud gaming,” said Mr Yuen Kuan Moon, CEO, Consumer Singapore at Singtel. “Latency and bandwidth are crucial to internet streaming and 5G will deliver next-generation connectivity that will support immersive gaming, even on mobile devices.”

The trial itself will focus on the demands of cloud gaming as a usecase on a 5G network, as well as the design and engineering of low latency hardware for cloud gaming. More specifically on the hardware side, ultra-fast responsiveness, portability and seamless device-to-device sync to cloud servers will be the focus of investigations.

With mobile devices commanding growth revenues in the gaming industry, the cloud gaming usecase is charging-up the priority list for telcos. This is perhaps particularly prevalent in the APAC markets, where mobile gaming has gained more traction than the Western markets, though it should not be forgotten this is very applicable for consoles also.

Perhaps the most encouraging sign for the cloud gaming segment is the aggressive moves being made by the internet giants to gain supremacy in the space. Amazon, Microsoft and Google are all fighting for attention in the early days, though it is worth bearing in mind more niche players such as Nvidia and HTC are also making moves.

This is maybe one of the most encouraging signs for telcos. Usually, there is very much a ‘built it and they will come’ attitude for network investment, though with cloud gaming services already being created and marketed, the demand from service providers is awaiting the creation of networks.

Microsoft unveils details for Project xCloud public trial

It’s been a year in the making, but Microsoft is going through the final preparations to launch its game-streaming service, Project xCloud.

The project itself will allow Xbox gamers to play their favourite games by streaming the content onto their mobile devices. Although the technology giant has had to fit out its data centres with specialist servers to run the games, the extensive geographical footprint of its data centre network could make Microsoft a force to be reckoned with in the emerging cloud gaming segment.

“Our vision for Project xCloud is to empower the gamers of the world to play the games they want, with the people they want, anywhere they want,” said Kareem Choudhry, Corporate VP for Project xCloud at Microsoft.

“We’re building this technology so gamers can decide when and how they play. Customers around the world love the immersive content from Xbox in their homes and we want to bring that experience to all of your mobile devices.”

Next month, the public trial will be launched. The US, UK and Korea have been selected as the initial testing grounds, with consumers able to sign-up here. All you’ll need is a wireless controller with Bluetooth and a stable mobile internet connection of 10 Mbps.

More to follow…

Is the consumer the broadcaster of tomorrow?

It’s an interesting thought that might force telcos to rethink how networks are built; will the increasingly influential trend of consumer created content demand greater upload speeds?

Download will of course always be more important than upload, we will always consume more content than we create, but with video messaging, social media and remote working becoming increasingly important aspects of our daily lives it is worth asking whether the upload metric, often ignored by the vast majority, will need some love in the future.

At IBC in Amsterdam this year, the opening keynote was made by YouTube. This is hardly unusual, it is one of the architects of the OTT revolution, though the focus on content creators was much more apparent than in previous years. Cécile Frot-Coutaz, the head of YouTube’s EMEA business, claimed the number of YouTube channels which generate more than $100,000 per annum has increased 30% from 2017 to 2018. The creation of content is becoming increasingly fragmented and straying outside the norms.

And this is not only visible on YouTube. Snapchat is a platform which was primarily designed to offer a platform for consumer content creation. In January, Facebook said there are now 500 million daily active users of the Stories feature on Instagram. Even the way we communicate is becoming more visual, with more consumers opting to video chat on the go.

Nexmo claims a 175% increase in regular live video usage in the last three years, with millennials leading the charge. 25% of young people use video chat on a daily basis. These trends will only increase as more banks, retail and healthcare companies offer live video services, and more of our lives revolve around the smartphone.

The video trends which we have discussed to great lengths over the last few years have primarily focused on the consumer downloading content. It is a one-way street of information, though this is not necessarily going to be the same in years to come. The big question is whether telcos are deploying networks which can compensate for the slight twist of strain. It is a nuance, but often the biggest challenges emerge from nuance.

A few weeks ago, the New England Patriots opened their Super Bowl LIII against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Over the course of this game, 11.58 TB of data traversed across the wifi network. The peak spike for the network was during the Super Bowl LIII banner reveal, with 34,982 concurrent users and 23.24 Gbps network utilisation. The breakdown of download and upload has not been revealed, though the team prepared themselves for an increase in sharing.

“The home opener for a Super Bowl champion is special,” said Fred Kirsch, VP of Content for the New England Patriots and Kraft Sports Productions.

“The team unveils its championship banner and every fan in the stadium wants to capture that moment along with all the other festivities leading up to it. We’ve been lucky enough to have done this before and saw huge spikes in social sharing during this game so our IT department, along with Extreme Networks, made sure we were prepared.

“Man, are we glad we did. At more than one terabyte, social sharing volume during the Super Bowl LIII banner unveiling at Gillette Stadium represents the highest data throughput rate of any moment during any sporting event.”

It might be a trend which irritates some technophobes and traditionalists, but social media is a genre for sharing. It started with the written word, users simply penning their thoughts, moved into sharing of existing content, and now it is increasingly becoming defined by the user creating and sharing their own content.

This creates a new dynamic and a new consideration for those who are deploying networks. Experience is often defined by download speed or latency, however there are will be an increasing number of people who will pay attention to the upload speeds moving forward.

Another interesting element for the upload speed metric will be the fast-developing gaming ecosystem. Download speeds are all well and good, but if you are playing a game which requires you to interact with other players online, uploads speeds are just as important. They do not need to be as high as download speeds, but there do need to be continued improvements to ensure connectivity meets the demands of gaming performance.

For example, Xbox currently suggests a consistent 3 Mbps download and 0.5 Mbps upload speeds for minimally acceptable performance. PS4 suggests 3 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload, as does Nintendo Switch. For PC gaming, download speeds are suggested at 3-6 Mbps, while upload speeds are 0.75–1 Mbps.

These speeds might be achievable in the home, but with the cloud gaming segment growing, these titles can be taken onto multiple screens and onto different networks. Will upload speeds offer a consistent and reliable experience on the mobile networks which are so consistently put under strain.

All of these factors don’t even take into account the increasingly complex or immersive content which will emerge over the next few years. Or the more advanced cameras which smartphone manufacturers are putting on their devices. More tech means more data which needs to be uploaded.

We are all narcissists deep down, craving for attention. Social media is allowing us to do this by sharing video content of our own experiences, and now the networks will have to deliver on the promise.

LG doubles-down on gaming and entertainment with K-Series launch

With IFA just around the corner, it would be fair to assume a tsunami of consumer devices launches are on the horizon, and here, LG has kicked-off its own efforts.

The mid-range K50S and K40S smartphones will be available for consumers in Europe, LATAM and Asia to purchase in October, and it appears LG is continuing its quest to find a niche in the gaming and entertainment world.

“These new K series devices offer an optimized multimedia experience that are competitive with the best smartphones in the price range,” said Morris Lee, SVP of mobile communications at LG. “With enhanced screens and more versatile cameras, the K50S and K40S represent exceptional value that demonstrate LG’s commitment to putting consumers’ needs first.”

The devices themselves bring larger screens than previous models, 6.5-inch for K50S and 6.1-inch for K40S, as well as a shift in the placement of the front-facing camera to maximise real-estate. New audio components have been introduced with DTS:X 3D Surround Sound, while a 4,000mAh battery for the K50S and 3,500mAh for K40S will offer extended usage. Both devices run on the latest Android OS, Pie.

Looking at the chipset, both models will incorporate 2.0 GHz Octa-Core, promised to enable smartphones to carry out more advanced tasks such as handling high resolution videos and graphic-heavy games without draining the battery, making the devices capable and efficient.

Gaining attention from today’s consumer can be a tricky task, and while other manufacturers largely seem to be focusing on narcissism with advanced cameras and AR features, LG appears to be focusing more acutely on gaming and the consumption of content.

We have already been treated to this strategy at EEs 5G launch back in May, when Head of LG Mobile UK Andrew Coughlin showed us the 5G prototype device. The product has been designed with multi-taskers in mind, with the option to clip the smartphone into a separate model, adding a second screen. The screens work independently, allowing for two applications to be run simultaneously, or potentially together with the bottom screen acting as a controller for games.

This is strategy which appears to be spread throughout the portfolio, and it is a smart idea.

Gaming is one of the fastest growing markets in the digital economy, and with the emergence of more cloud gaming platforms such as Google Stadia or Nvidia GeForce NOW, accessibility will also increase. A recent report from PwC suggests the German gaming market will grow by 5.2% a year between 2019 and 2023, though this seems to be moderate growth in comparison to other markets.

Research from GlobalData suggested the globally the video games market generated $131 billion, though this could increase to $300 billion by 2025. The surge in growth will be led by smartphone gaming, though as the newly emerging cloud gaming platforms are somewhat of an unknown entity, who knows what the actual figure will be.

On the entertainment front, there is no secret consumers like to watch content on their smartphones, but again, this is becoming increasingly accessible thanks to larger data tariffs and improved wifi in public spaces.

LG will have to do a lot to cut through the noise considering the massive marketing budgets of its rivals but craving a niche in the gaming and entertainment arena is certainly a smart move.

Microsoft wastes no time in countering Google’s cloud gaming ambitions

Cloud gaming is emerging as a major new front in the competitive war between tech giants, who are using the E3 gaming trade show to flex their muscles.

A few days ago Google added some substance to its cloud gaming ambitions by announcing more details, including a list of games and pricing, of its Stadia platform. Shortly after Microsoft had its big E3 reveal, which of course focused on plans for its Xbox gaming console. These included the ability to stream games from a console to a mobile device and the opportunity for attendees to stream games from the cloud via the Project xCloud streaming service.

The difference between the two is that the latter doesn’t require you to own an Xbox console and so is directly equivalent to Stadia. Microsoft first announced Project xCloud last October, so it’s clearly a tricky proposition if this is the progress it has managed in the intervening 8 months. Having said that, at least one gaming hack seemed impressed with the streaming performance, noting that the latency was acceptably low.

Low latency will be the killer feature of 5G if this sort of thing is to drive truly mobile gaming, as we noted from MWC earlier this year. Not only is it a prerequisite for fast-paced first-person shooter games, in which any delay presents a massive competitive disadvantage, but it’s widely recognised that its essential for the virtual reality user experience.

You can see a bit more from the Microsoft E3 announcement below, but the company still seems to be keeping its cards fairly close to its chest on this topic. Maybe one reason is that it’s trying to work out what this means for its cloud gaming partnership with Sony, which just happens to make the main competitor to the Xbox. The market is clearly receptive to cloud-based subscription services for its entertainment such as Netflix and Spotify. We will soon find out if this applies to gaming too.

Google fleshes out its Stadia cloud gaming platform

Having teased a new cloud gaming platform earlier this year, Google has finally got around to launching it properly.

Stadia offers games that are 100% hosted in the cloud, which means you don’t need a console, don’t need to install any software and can game on any screen with an adequate internet connection. Right now Google is only launching the premium tier, which offers 4K gaming but requires a £9 per month subscription and a 35 Mbps connection.

A freemium tier will follow in due course that won’t change a subscription fee but will offer reduced performance. It looks like both tiers will charge full-whack for individual games, although the premium one will chuck in a few freebies to sweeten the pot. Among the games announced by Google is a third version of the popular RPG Baldur’s Gate.

To seed the market Google is urging early adopters to by a Founder’s Edition bundle that includes a controller, a Chromecast Ultra dongle and three months subscription to the ‘Pro’ premium tier for £119. Here’s what you get for Pro versus the basic package.

stadia pricing

The main telecoms angle here is bandwidth. Google reckons you still need a 20 Mbps connection even for 1080p gaming, which a lot of people, even in the UK, still struggle to reach. But the real strain on networks will come if people start using stadia via mobile devices. This is unlikely to really take off until you get games developed specifically for mobile, probably with a location and/or AR element to them, but when they do we might finally see a killer consumer app for 5G.

 

EE 5G hits the ground running

Sneaking in-front of Vodafone to debut on May 30, EE’s 5G proposition will be launched across six cities in the UK with a range of different devices and interesting bundling options.

While the launch of the network was announced last week, BT Consumer CEO Marc Allera gave much needed colour to the deployment plans at a media event in London and to be fair to BT and EE, it does look pretty impressive.

From today, customers will be able to pre-order bundles from EE as well as choose from multiple devices. The Samsung Galaxy S10 5G will of course be one of the options, though customers will also be privy to exclusive deals with the Samsung Fold, Oppo Reno 5G and the LG V50 ThinkQ, as well as Huawei’s FWA device and the HTC 5G Smart Hub.

While all of the devices certainly promise a lot, the LG approach is perhaps the most interesting. The device itself is pretty much as you would expect, though a separate module is also included, allowing the device to be clipped in to add an extra screen (as you can see below). Head of LG Mobile UK Andrew Coughlin said the product has been designed with multi-taskers in mind, with each screen working independently of the other.

The device also has the potential to open up entirely new experiences when it comes to gaming.

LQ Images

What you will not see over the next few months is a Huawei device launched in partnership with EE. Allera suggested the pause button has been hit on this relationship, due to the difficulties the firm is facing with its Android licence. If EE cannot guarantee performance of the device throughout the customers mobile contract, it will not partner with Huawei.

But onto the launch itself, six cities will experience the 5G euphoria on Day One, with another 10 added to the mix over the remainder of 2019. Building on the already completed work, EE plans to upgrade 100 base stations to 5G a month, taking the total to 1500 by the end of 2019.

“Today is Day One of our 5G journey, we are going to be the first in the UK and one of the first in Europe to bring our customers 5G,” said Allera.

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Always connected is not a new concept from EE, though it would not be a surprise to see the message ramped up over the next couple of months. With 4G, broadband, wifi and, soon enough, 5G, EE has a lot of connectivity assets to shout about. When you combine these different segments with the largest geographical 4G coverage of all the UK MNOs, this is a selling point which would genuinely interest our internet-obsessed society.

That said, advertisements will need a bit of ‘sexing up’ if they are to catch the attention of the mass market.

On the speeds side, it does look like EE will be launching its 5G network with the ambition of reaching 200 Mbps. However, the message will be more focused on reliability and consistent experience as opposed to peak speeds.

“Peak speed might be the headline, but it is not the story,” said Allera.

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Creative tariffs and bundling are where EE might be able to attract the most attention. 5G customers will not only gain access to faster download speeds and more reliable connections but will get the option to choose from various different zero-rating options to make the most of the connectivity euphoria. These options can be swapped out as the customer desires.

Finally, EE will be also be the exclusive partner of Niantec for the highly-anticipated follow-up to Pokemon Go; Harry Potter, Wizards Unite. Although Pokemon Go was a bit of a sham when it came to delivering on a genuine augment reality experience, the Harry Potter game looks much more immersive and truer to the definitions of AR. Considering the popularity of Pokemon Go, Niantec could certainly be onto another winner should it be able to nail the AR experience with this new title.

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What is worth noting, is this is only the first phase of the EE 5G strategy. The aim will be to have 5G present in 50 cities across the UK by this time next year, though in the first phase it will only be in the busiest areas. Although the geographical rollout will be quite limited, 8% of base stations will be 5G, these assets will deliver 25% of the total traffic running across the EE network.

The second phase of the deployment, starting in 2022, will see the rollout of EE’s brand new 5G core, as well as the introduction of new spectrum. This will be when the UK will be able to experience a genuine 5G network, with the prospect of cloud gaming, AR and immersive content living up to the promise. The final phase, 2023, will see the introduction of mission critical applications focusing on the low-latency angle of 5G.

Interestingly enough, despite all the criticism faced by Huawei in the press, EE will be launching its 5G proposition with Huawei at the core of the network. This is unavoidable and will only be temporary, EE will gradually phase out Huawei from the core, but it is a fact which has seemingly been overlooked or cleverly managed out of the public domain by the BT PR team.

5G is about to become very real for the consumer and soon enough there will be a battle between the MNOs to fight for attention. EE and Vodafone might be scrapping for the 5G lead right now, but this approach from EE looks very promising.

How carriers can grab a piece of the billion-dollar mobile-gaming pie

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece John-Paul Burke, Country Manager UK, Ireland and the Nordics for Gameloft, has some tips for how operators can grab a bigger piece of the mobile gaming action.

You only have to look around your train or bus home from work to see how many of your fellow commuters are playing a game on their smartphone, to know that mobile gaming is absolutely huge.

The global mobile games market was estimated at $63.2 billion in November 2018 (according to Newzoo’s 2018 Global Games Market Report). It’s clear that what was once a niche hobby reserved for hardcore gamers is now mass market. Every smartphone is a console, meaning that everyone, everywhere, can be a gamer. Even within the gaming industry, mobile gaming makes up 42% of worldwide revenue.

This has let companies across a number of sectors diversify their revenue streams, providing the scope for them to reach existing (and prospective) customers through mobile gaming. Yet arguably, carriers have been slow to embrace the opportunity, and have largely overlooked gaming as part of a broader package of benefits.

As competition for customers looks set to intensify even further within the mobile industry, here are three ways carriers could use gaming to differentiate their offering.

All-you-can-eat gaming

The mobile sector has long understood that it can leverage people’s love for entertainment streaming services, to incentivise prospective and existing customers. EE was the first to clock on, announcing a six-month free subscription to Apple Music for its users in 2017. Vodafone soon followed, and now offers a huge range of video and music streaming services to customers across its Red Entertainment plans.

Not dissimilar to services such as Netflix or Spotify, “all-you-can-eat” gaming packages allow customers access to a range of games – either on a complimentary basis, or for a fixed monthly fee billed directly through the carrier. Customers could benefit from, for example, unlimited downloads and play time, with no in-game ads, while carriers can benefit from a proportion of the income, and increased customer loyalty.

These packages are already offered by carriers in the Americas and Europe. Gameloft’s own unlimited gaming platform is used by America Movil, Telefonica LATAM and Tim Italy. However, they are yet to become common in the UK. This is soon set to change. Verizon announced earlier this year that it would be joining big tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft in developing its own games streaming service. We can expect to see increased interest and demand from UK customers in all-you-can-eat gaming – with opportunities for UK carriers to offer this kind of package.

Surprise and delight

Another route carriers could take to engage existing customers is to surprise and delight them in the games they’re already playing.

Services such as O2’s priority scheme demonstrate the power of reaching customers where they already are. For instance, allowing participants to buy tickets for their favourite artist or event up to 48 hours before the tickets are released to anyone else. Offering a huge range of deals and discounts in the stores and restaurants customers visit every day. These are small incentives but help people to experience the things that matter to them. They punch above their weight in terms of the value they add.

A number of publishers work with carriers to offer their customers free in-app credits or power-ups in their most-played, blockbuster games. This is an effective tool to build loyalty, surprising customers with the means to progress in the game they’re playing is a quick win that carries value for the users.

Infrastructure to support mobile gamers

Emerging technologies, which can help boost network performance, will allow carriers to offer packages that fundamentally improve the quality of their customers’ gaming experience. After all, for gamers, network performance is of utmost importance, especially when gaming gets competitive. Good bandwidth, low (or no) latency and packet loss all help ensure that their game runs smoothly, and that they’re on a strong footing when playing against others.

With 5G set to launch this year, there’s a huge opportunity for carriers. Mobile gamers will arguably be the greatest beneficiaries of 5G, which can help make increasingly detailed and bandwidth-heavy mobile games smooth and lag-free. Similarly, Edge computing, which enables data to be processed closer to the user, could also help reduce delays.

Some telecoms companies are already offering packages tailored to the gaming industry’s huge market – such as Virgin Media’s VIVID 350 fibre broadband, promising an ultrafast connection fit for the needs of PC and console gamers. It’s only a matter of time before mobile carriers begin investing in their infrastructure in order to offer similar packages to mobile gamers.

Ofcom’s decision late last year to reform the switching of mobile communication services means it will be easier than ever for consumers to take advantage of competition, and to move to a better deal with a different provider. Yet Ofcom’s decision also presents an opportunity for carriers. There’ll be greater scope than ever to catch the roving eyes of potential new customers. Either way, telcos need to ensure they’re offering customers everything they can – and part of this should be making it their mission to help people more easily play the games they love. Or, they risk missing out on their slice of the $63.2bn mobile gaming pie.

EA’s Fortnite copycat is off to a flier

One week after Electronic Arts launched Apex Legends, a free-to-play online battle royale game, the team is purring over 25 million sign ups and over 2 million concurrent players at peak times.

The game itself, developed by Respawn Entertainment and published by EA, is nothing that original. While the look of the game might have a different feel to Fortnite, the idea and gameplay is effectively the same and users are seemingly loving it. Just a point of comparison, it took Fortnite three months to hit the 25 million sign-up milestone.

“What a week,” said Vince Zampella of Respawn Entertainment. “Since we launched Apex Legends last week on Monday we’ve seen the creation of an Apex Legends community that is excited, thriving, and full of great feedback and ideas. Our goal is to build this game with you, our community, so keep giving us your feedback because we really are listening.”

Gaming might well be a niche in the telecommunications world right now, but it is growing at a staggering rate. It won’t be too long before the telcos have to pay attention to this segment of the digital world, factoring in gaming as a major conversation in the connectivity mix.

What Fortnite has done over the last couple of months is take a niche segment of the gaming world out to the masses. Online multiplayer formats are of course not new, but the free-to-play idea, with revenues being sourced entirely through in-game purchases, has been taken to a new level. The accessibility of a relatively limited experience has captured the imagination and interest of new users, opening the door for other developers to follow.

Of course, as the popularity of these games increase, the demands on the network will do as well. These are games which are reliant on real-time experiences, marrying interactions between users all over the world. For avid gamers, or those with children, purchasing decisions might well be impacted on the performance of these experiences. Now it might not seem like a massive deal, but these trends have a tendency to snowball; just look at the explosion of video content over the last couple of years.

It’s just another factor for the telcos to consider over the coming years. Gone are the days where gamers are satisfied with a linear, story-mode experience, something which would have been easy for the telcos to deal with. These games require downloads and updates, but this is nothing compared to the demand of real-time interactions with 20+ other users in countries all over the world.

Gaming has largely been ignored to date, but with the segment creeping out of its niche corner offering new and in-depth experiences for the mass market, it is increasingly becoming a burden on the network.