I was excited to sit down with Alan Bradley of PCGamer and Gamesradar to discuss how 5G is going to disrupt mobile apps. Alan covered the disruption well in terms of mobile gaming on Gamesradar.
Below are my notes in terms of the more general questions. I thought you might be interested in the straight unvarnished opinion.
1. Broadly speaking, how do you feel like the advent and broad adoption of 5G will affect gaming? How important is this technology, and why?
Mobile gaming is more competitive than it ever has been before. Many of the technologies required to make and support games from cloud technologies (ex. AWS), platforms, (ex Unity,) and product analytics and user acquisition measurement tools (... an endless list) have changed the barriers to entry like never before by making building and creating games less expensive and faster than ever before.
While its still difficult to break into the top grossing charts, the battlefield among top game developers is intense. At the next tier, we are seeing new entrants all the time and they are finding great and profitable niches. (See Zynga's acquisition of Small Giant Games as an example.)
Like any industry, new technologies, like 5G and the rumors of faster processors by Apple and Google, always create disruption. Game developers hold one truth - they will always experiment with new technologies. Inevitably several new entrants will use the new technologies to catch something unexpected, grow their apps quickly, and become big players.
Practically speaking, the biggest limitation for all mobile apps is not processing or phone form factors but the pipe in which data is transferred. Your phone is powerful and runs a ton of apps who all battle for a limited resource - network bandwidth. Picture a small pipe in which all the data is flowing... This is why we often see games slow down, eCommerce apps freeze on startup, video streams appear pixelated or not run at all. While 5G is not necessarily increasing the size of the pipe, edge computing will have the effect of completing many of the network requests quicker and improving apps ability to stream. The overall effect is more data will pass faster.
Not only will games and other apps run faster and be more responsive, but also new genres may be unlocked, like real-time shooters, and cross-platform game-play could become an actual reality. The biggest impact will not be games. The apps we all want to use on our phones, because the experience should be better and easier to access but is not yet, will become a reality. Streaming media will become a reality; browsing for products in-app will be much more fluid; employee productivity apps, like driver apps, internal workflows, etc., will be easier to use than on the web.
2. What do you feel the specific impact of 5G on VR and AR will be? The mobile ramifications are fairly obvious, but how will 5G affect VR development (or perhaps adoption)?
This is a tough question because many of the limitations of VR are not because of network bandwidth but instead because of form factor. As mentioned for streaming, 5G promises for a significantly improved experience which should help VR, which in the majority of cases is reliant on streaming of content. However, for games, until VR finds a use that makes sense for the game play outside of novelty experiences, 5g will not change the adoption. For non-game applications, 5G may unlock many of the use cases we all imagine and are awaiting for both AR and VR. Use cases like viewing a set of tools on a construction site and receiving real-time instruction or interacting with each other in a localized game (see a true AR game, unlike Pokemon Go) could become a reality. These are big bets and someone will make them!
3. How far out do you believe we are from the widespread adoption of 5G? What are the obstacles?
We have seen this story before with 4G. The primary carriers battle first via marketing and branding over perception of being first-to-market. We saw this with 4G, when many of our phones that used to display 3G all of a sudden displayed 4G. My wife's phone the other day started displaying "5G". We all know the hardware is not there yet and yet she thought she had an auto-upgrade. The true battle then occurs to improve the hardware required to support 5G and in-mass across the country. Verizon, especially, has already invested in 5G so unlike 4G which took several years, I expect 5G to roll out much quicker. Plus, conceptually the component of 5G that is edge computing should be quicker to implement.
Outside of gaming, the concept of edge computing that is encompassed in 5G has huge potential business model ramifications for not just the carriers but also cloud computing and content providers.
If the carriers now have computing power closer to our homes than other technology and computing service providers, will the carriers be able to expand their business models? Will they charge for the computing? Will they sign exclusive deals with content providers and streamers? Don't forget that AT&T is already all three - a cloud and CDN provider, a carrier, and content provider.