Online gaming using a smartphone is certainly suboptimal for a PC gamer. But stream games from the cloud to a handset, or even connect it to a PC, laptop or even Steam Deck (opens in a new tab)…now that’s just a dumb idea. Catastrophic cue lag and a miserable experience, right? Actually, no, not with 5G mobile technology.
The reality of 5G cellular is simply staggering. For starters, the raw bandwidth on offer will most likely blow your home landline internet service. But let’s not rush, let’s first clarify exactly what we’re talking about here and how everything is set up.
First, you’ll need a 5G-capable smartphone, but you’ll also need reception in your area. The rollout is ongoing, but you’ll need to check your carrier to see if it’s operational where you are. Then you will also need a game streaming service.
Game streaming, also known as cloud gaming, is of course the notion of playing games on a remote PC or other device like a console or server and streaming that game over the internet instead of streaming it. run locally on your own PC or console. The two biggest and best cloud gaming services are Nvidia’s GeForce Now (opens in a new tab) and Xbox Cloud Gaming from Microsoft (opens in a new tab). Nvidia’s service essentially runs on cloud-based PC server hardware, with Nvidia graphics chips doing the rendering work, while the Xbox Cloud Gaming service runs on Xbox consoles redesigned as blade servers.
On the games side, Xbox Cloud Gaming provides access to all Game Pass games through a Game Pass Unlimited subscription, while GeForce Now has a massive library of games that mirror, at least in part, those on Steam, the Epic Games Store, and major publishers like Electronic Arts. As for where and on what devices you can play cloud games, the idea is almost anywhere and anything. GeForce Now supports Windows PCs, iPhones, Macs, Android handsets, and Nvidia’s Shield devices, while Xbox Cloud Gaming covers PCs, iOS, Android, Xbox consoles themselves, and Samsung SmartTVs.
And another thing. Let’s be clear about the experience offered in terms of resolutions and refresh rates. Cloud gaming isn’t some dumb second-tier experience. GeForce Now can stream games up to 4K HDR resolution at 60Hz or 1440p at 120Hz. Xbox Cloud Gaming services cap out at a reasonable 1080p and 60Hz.
Of course, the higher the resolution and refresh rate, the more bandwidth you need, and that’s where a 5G cellular connection really scores. In our tests, we achieved over 800MB/s download speed in our downtown office. That’s a truly colossal number by any measure.
The setup procedure, using GeForce Now as an example, is quite simple. Let’s say you want to play Fortnite on an Android handset. Simply download the GeForce Now app from the Play Store, launch it, create a new account, and you can immediately stream free games, straight to your handset. If you own games in, say, a Steam library, you can also access many of them through GeForce Now. There is no need to pay twice.
The free account is limited to one-hour sessions and 1080p games. Therefore, if you want the full RTX 3080-level 4K game streaming experience, you need to pay £18 per month for an account. Game Pass Ultimate is cheaper, at around £11 a month, although it’s limited to those 1080p streams.
More technical readers might immediately wonder how this makes sense. After all, there must be hideous input latency playing an online shooter using a touchscreen to control a game streaming from a remote server? There is a very small noticeable lag. But it’s much, much less than you imagine possible.
Of course, with any 5G handset you also have the option of connecting a PC or laptop and playing games locally, but using super-fast 5G connectivity for internet access. Whether and how fast you can connect may depend on your service provider, so it’s worth checking. It may also depend on the speed of your Wi-Fi connection with your PC or laptop. On a Wi-Fi 6-enabled Blade Stealth, running on a 5GHz access point, we were seeing speeds of up to 500Mbps.
5G was also designed from the ground up to reduce latency and deliver high speeds. So while it’s not as fast as a fixed wired connection, we found it only added about 60ms to overall latency. While not acceptable for competitive online shooters, for most gamers most of the time it’s a surprisingly good experience.
Turns out 5G for gaming isn’t a dumb idea at all.