Edge computing will revolutionise mobile gaming

15 February 2019 | Jason McGee-Abe

Cover

Mobile gaming has become the largest segment of the global games market and capacity requirements are higher than ever. Edge computing is the key to success, writes Jason McGee-Abe

Gaming is one the biggest bandwidth-intensive services in the world today and, with the increased adoption of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) applications on the horizon, this is only set to grow.

Gone are the days when Nokia 3310’s Snake was a staple game on approximately 350 million mobile phones. Today, there are over 2.3 billion gamers worldwide. Statistics from App Annie, an app data and insights platform, show that there were 194 billion gaming downloads worldwide in 2018. The immersive, interactive online gaming choices are much more advanced today.

Gaming is no longer a niche hobby: every smart phone is a console, meaning that everyone, everywhere can be a gamer. Carriers can reach existing and new customers through mobile gaming.

Gamers care very much about network performance and would be willing to pay for increased bandwidth, lower latency and near-zero packet loss – attributes associated with 5G. A high-quality network gives players a better experience and, in a tournament for cash prizes, having the best network is important.

The mobile gaming market itself has grown in revenue by 25% year-on-year, according to Newzoo’s 2018 Global Games Market Report. For the first time ever more than half of all gaming revenues come from the mobile segment – $70 billion of $125 billion.

“The mobile sector has long understood that they can leverage our love for music and TV streaming services, such as Netflix and Spotify, to reward and incentivise prospective and existing customers,” John-Paul Burke, UK and Ireland country manager at Gameloft, tells me.

However, telcos have been much slower on the uptake with gaming and those that don’t provide a compelling offering to gamers risk missing a huge opportunity.

“This offering could take the form of an ‘all you can eat’ gaming platform – similar to Netflix or Spotify – which allows customers access to a range of games, either on a complimentary basis, or for a fixed monthly fee billed directly through the carrier,” says Burke.

“Customers can benefit from, for example, unlimited downloads and play time, with no in-game ads. Carriers can benefit from a proportion of the income, and the increased loyalty of new and existing customers.”

Netflix for games

Verizon is testing a “Netflix-style cloud gaming service”. According to a report from The Verge, a US technology news network, “Verizon Gaming is already up and running on the Nvidia Shield set-top box and will, according to the company’s documentation, eventually make its way to Android smartphones.”

For Verizon, cloud gaming could be a showcase for 5G broadband both in the home and on the go. The low latency and fast data speeds of 5G could solve many of the hurdles that game streaming apps – such as Sony’s PlayStation Now – are dealing with today.

Microsoft says it is creating the “Netflix for games”, aiming to establish itself as the de facto standard in video game streaming services, and public trials of Project xCloud are set to take place this year.

Some games today are so bandwidth-intensive and require such serious processing power that digitisation opens the door – but making high-end, processor-intensive games available through streaming services opens the door. Microsoft has its own data centres all over the world, which help to ensure end-to-end quality and latency, given the demands of video-game streaming.

5G and edge combination

The target is to make a mobile gaming experience comparable to a console-based experience. That means the combination of 5G and edge computing can support continued growth in this valuable segment.

New technologies, such as cloudlets, micro data centres, fog – using edge devices to carry out a substantial amount of computation – and mobile edge computing, aim to provide storage and computational resources close to a user at the network edge, to minimise latency and response time.

In September, Deutsche Telekom and US-based Aricent announced the creation of an Open Source Edge software framework. Designed especially for developers, it aims to aid the deployment of 5G-enabled network edge facilities targeted at delivering ultra-low latency network applications. The edge platform is built for software-defined data centres and is decentralised.

“The mobile gaming market has been growing rapidly till it hit some roadblocks recently,” Shamik Mishra, assistant VP of technology and innovation at Aricent, tells me. “Most gaming solutions today require vast amounts of compute, processing and data storage capabilities and mobile devices have constraints in fulfilling these requirements.

“For a while, the cloud was able to help with this as a significant portion of the gaming solution ran in the cloud. But the constraints of latency kicked in. The further the cloud is from a device, the more the latency. It is actually down to the speed of light. And, naturally, gamers hate delays.”

There is a big opportunity to create a network slice to give a gamer access to local cloud compute capabilities and get that end-to-end latency so they get an experience that feels like they have a top gaming computer in their home.

Mishra, who led the Deutsche Telekom edge computing project, believes edge computing and the ultra-reliable low latency network that 5G will offer can potentially solve this problem.

“That’s because the edge computing or the network edge or a data centre – it could be even a device or a rack of servers or a micro-data centre – at the edge of the network can host the gaming solution,” he says.

Powerful computing

“The network edge can have powerful computing capabilities, intelligence, hardware acceleration and large storage. With low-latency networking, the access and experience of the gaming solution from the end device improves drastically. Many carriers are exploring this capability.”

The pressures for connectivity from the mobile gaming community is certainly being felt by data centre companies. Bryan Hill, Interxion’s director of business development for digital media, explains: “Mobile gaming has been a blossoming industry for years now and demand for connectivity is continuing to grow as new technologies like AR and VR develop and become more commonplace.”

However, cloud gaming, is early in its evolution– but “it is already driving data centre requirements in the high hundreds of kilowatts through to low megawatts”, Hill says.

“Both mobile and cloud gaming require dense connectivity from carriers and internet exchanges to be able to serve their users with the low end-to-end latency that core gamers require,” he adds.

“For gaming companies in Europe, this means working with providers that are present in major centres across all the largest video gaming markets. As the gaming industry continues to grow, and as the complexity and detail of gaming titles increase, we expect to see a greater demand for data and connectivity. Data centres will certainly play a key role in providing this.”

Caching content

Carriers and content delivery networks (CDNs) can help to address this by helping to cache content closer to the end user and offering dynamic bandwidth solutions which can enhance the overall experience.

Orange is also continuing to develop switching from a transit network to a CDN. It is deploying a network of CDNs, pushing content closer to its customers and, in turn, aiding them with the explosion of traffic and their latency battles, which typically stem from video and gaming.

“We have added more direct access for content providers with our network and we’re developing our own CDN solutions,” says Pierre-Louis de Guillebon, until recently the head of Orange International Carriers. “One offering is that they can host their own solutions but Orange is also adding its own services for local content access.”

CDNs also have a critical role to play in the success of mobile gaming. Limelight, one of the biggest providers of CDNs to the gaming industry, works with the likes of Nintendo and GameOn. It recently formed a partnership with Ericsson to provide computing capabilities at network edges. This is ideal for new low-latency applications such as IoT, gaming, and virtual reality.

Steve Miller-Jones, VP of product strategy at Limelight Networks, tells me: “As more traffic shifts to the public internet from private networks, the need for high performance networks and distributed infrastructure is required to maintain a high-quality user experience. A key solution to this is edge cloud computing.”

Limelight has been helping Ericsson partner with service providers through its unified delivery network (UDN) edge cloud platform. This is a web-scale edge delivery network that drives performance benefits and cost efficiencies.

Content delivery is the first application built on the UDN platform and under the agreement, Limelight’s content delivery technology will be deployed on Ericsson’s UDN edge cloud platform to expand its delivery capabilities and increase capacities.

“By providing computing capabilities close to the user or device, edge computing addresses rapidly increasing data demands and subscriber experience expectations through distributed infrastructure, while maintaining high quality and high performance,” adds Limelight’s Miller-Jones.

“Low-latency applications such as gaming are set to benefit. We know from our own global consumer study that fast performance is gamers’ top concern ahead of simple gameplay, an interesting storyline and the ability to play the game when not online.”

Ultra-low latency is critical to data-heavy and rich mobile gaming. The combination of technologies, such as network slicing and edge computing,
will become increasingly important because it’s not only the latency of the network that is important with cloud gaming, but the end-to-end nature of it.