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High-speed 5G network seen as ready to give big boost to online gaming

by Junko Horiuchi

Kyodo

At this year’s Tokyo Game Show, the big draw was next-generation 5G networking — setting pulses racing with the prospect of a radically more immersive gaming experience.

Offering data transmission speeds around 100 times faster than 4G, 5G is expected to enable more seamless imagery — particularly lower latency, more vivid images — and sharper motion. Industry experts say it will dramatically improve the quality of augmented and virtual reality games.

“It was very smooth, responsive and consistent,” said Omar Alshiji, a 23-year-old game designer from Bahrain, after trying out the fighting game Tekken at the NTT Docomo Inc. booth.

The major mobile carrier installed 5G base stations at its booth this year, making the high-speed network available at the show. The four-day industry event, held in the city of Chiba, ended Sunday.

“My country does not have 5G, only 4G, so I wanted to try it. It was faster,” said Alshiji, who is also a professional esports player. It will also allow for quicker responses from players, a key determining factor in competitive gaming, he added.

Already available in some areas of the United States and in South Korea, commercial 5G services will be available in Japan next year. Apart from gaming, the technology is expected to be used widely in areas such as autonomous driving and remote medical surgery.

An augmented reality version of the game Street Fighter V Arcade Edition was another steady draw at the NTT Docomo stand.

Seeing the fighting game played on the 5G network was a “completely new experience,” said a 45-year-old woman who works for a game company.

At the booth, she was able to watch duels between three-dimensional Street Fighter characters superimposed on her current physical location via a smartphone screen.

“Since how the characters look changes as I move around, I could see them from different angles, from top or bottom. They would get smaller or bigger. It was fun,” she said.

“I had never played Street Fighter before but I came here because I was interested in how the 5G network would change the way we experience games,” she added. “I think its wider use could attract new game fans.”

At the same booth, teams from 12 Japanese, Chinese and Taiwanese companies in the game-making and other industries competed in Pubg Corp.’s popular battle royale smartphone game Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. The demonstration showed how the 5G network can provide smooth simultaneous connections for an online game with multiple players.

Takehiro Nakamura, senior vice president and general manager at 5G Laboratories at NTT Docomo, said his company aims to provide network services to offer game developers high quality, high speed and low latency.

Trying out a Sony Corp. VR game featuring virtual diva Hatsune Miku, Masashi Okamoto said, “The way in which I am completely self-contained in another world is great.

“I hope the 5G network will make the experience even better,” he added.

Okamoto said he had purchased Facebook Inc.’s new Oculus Quest VR headset that went on sale in May, noting that the $399 standalone Oculus Quest should help the VR game reach the mass market.

Industry observers say a major challenge to introducing VR games to new customers has been that high-end personal computers are generally needed to connect with VR headsets. But Okamoto said he hopes the combination of 5G and the Oculus Quest, which requires no connection with a PC, could mark a breakthrough.

Technology companies see the next-generation network as an opportunity to attract more customers.

Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies Co. is betting on its expertise in 5G networks to popularize its smartphone platform for mobile games against competition such as Apple Inc.’s App Store and Google LLC’s Google Play.

“We have the top-class technology in 5G, so developers can take the lead in offering 5G-adaptable games through the use of the Huawei platform,” said an official at the Japanese unit of Huawei.

“We are ready to offer game developers assistance in marketing and promoting the games to our more than 80 million global users across 40 countries,” said the official.

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