5G plans should account for eSports, live events and gaming

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As mobile operators create plans for new service and product offerings on their impending 5G networks, they face a game-changing opportunity from eSports, event streaming and live sporting events. And operators are expecting mobile gaming to flood their 5G networks.

On a recent poll conducted by the Mobile Video Industry Council with over 50 operators including Vodafone, Orange, Deutsche Telekom, Verizon, AT&T and Telefonica – most operators revealed that cloud gaming could represent 25% to 50% of 5G data by 2022. That’s huge!

To understand just how lucrative, or problematic, an opportunity eSports is, consider the following:

  • In the world of eSports, professional gamers around the globe compete against each other for massive cash prizes. It’s estimated that eSports revenue will reach $1.1 billion this year. 
  • Audiences for eSports already are massive – and they’re growing. In 2019, more than 30 million people in the US will watch an eSports event at least once a month, an increase of 18% from 2018. Viewership is expected to grow by more than 50% to more than 46 million by 2023.
  • Approximately 436 million people globally will watch some form of eSports this year, and more than 40% of eSports audiences don’t play the games – they just watch.
  • Game streaming also is experiencing explosive growth. Google’s Stadia gives users the ability to access games from YouTube with any device. Apple Arcade, a subscription game streaming service, will be available in more than 150 countries this fall. Microsoft’s xCloud steaming service and Nvidia’s GeForce Now also are in development. 
  • More than 90% of operators worldwide plan to trial 5G networks at sporting venues before the end of 2020, supporting a wide range of potential use cases, including instant virtual reality (VR) replays, 360-degree streams and new multi-screen streaming services.
  • Almost 40% of operators plan to coincide 5G launches with major sporting events, including the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and the 2020 European football championships.

For all of these scenarios to reach fruition, 5G networks must deliver on its promises for low latency and high throughput. Services like these demand significant bandwidth — even more when augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) applications and 4K and 8K high-definition video are added into the mix — putting more pressure on operators to ensure their 5G networks deliver excellent quality of experience (QoE).

Developing a strategy

As operators move forward with 5G networks, they need to develop packaging and pricing strategies that address the unique challenges created by eSports, live events and event streaming, taking into account patterns in consumer behavior and devices, as well as event scheduling.

In addition, to ensure that 5G networks will accommodate consumer expectations, operators should take a multi-pronged approach with the following considerations:

Managing data: Managing data for eSports, live events and event streaming requires operators to understand the different types of data that must be managed, from rapidly changing session data to subscription data. It also requires operators to manage real-time data, raising the bar for efficient, secure network design.

Consideration also must be given to how networks will handle encrypted data. More than 90% of mobile internet traffic is encrypted, yet there is no single standard for data encryption. 

Managing Quality of Experience (QoE)

Live events, eSports and event streaming also create significant challenges to ensuring QoE on mobile networks. It’s extremely difficult to predict mobile traffic patterns for these events. Consider a major league baseball game, which normally takes about four hours to complete. Operators have no idea when games will extend past that time allotment, for instance when a game goes into overtime. These types of scenarios make capacity planning difficult, creating the potential for network quality issues. When HD video is required, it creates additional challenges.

HD video requires up to four times more bandwidth than standard video and encrypted over-the-top (OTT) traffic. Additionally challenging is the fact that consumers tend to base their concept of video quality on the length of time it takes to access video content. Research shows that consumers won’t wait longer than six seconds for video to buffer, yet the average time for a mobile video to begin playing is seven seconds. 

Optimizing 4G assets

While operators continue to build out 5G networks, they also need to ensure the quality of their 4G networks. Even when 5G becomes widely available, 4G will still play a key role in how operators manage network traffic. eSports, live events and game streaming place increased demands on 4G networks and the 4G radio access network (RAN). Operators need continue developing solutions that address 4G RAN congestion, even as they invest in and build out 5G infrastructure. 

It’s an exciting time for mobile operators, as technological innovations and impending 5G networks open a world of opportunities to create and monetize new services. Without question, eSports, live events and game streaming hold tremendous promise, especially for operators that think ahead and strategize for the changes they create for networks. 

Written by John Giere, President and CEO of Openwave Mobility

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