Telecom companies usually don’t have large on-floor experiences at PAX shows, but this year AT&T went all out, not only showing off the 5G gaming experience on mobile devices, but running a cool loot drop program during the show – pop into the booth to game on mobile devices connected to the on-floor 5G network they constructed, with every minute of gaming filling up a progress bar. At 100% anyone that was in the booth was rewarded with a loot drop and walked away with some well earned swag.
But by mobile gaming, they weren’t talking about traditional small game apps on your phone. Through NVIDIA’s Geforce NOW software on mobile devices, we were looking at running triple A, high-res games with the ability to access your Steam library. Having done some recent reviews on a new class of gaming Chromebooks that rely on your network versus tech specs for a good experience, and being an electrical engineer by education, I was more interested in the tech – even though the loot drops were super cool.
I got to speak with Sam Scamardo, AT&T’s gaming product director to learn a little more about both their programs and their floor presence in addition to sponsoring the PAX Handheld Lounge.
“It’s just a different approach to, you know, sometimes talk to the same audience but also showcase something little more different, more interactive, and just get a feel for the community, and let everybody know that we’re here and excited to share in all this fun.”
Big blue has been in touch with the mobile gaming space since back in 2019 when 5G was just kicking off, working with indie developers to understand their streaming needs and looking at the technical elements of what issues would impact that experience. “What happens to the mobile packets when they hit he radio access network and travel through that network core into their ultimate destination? What’s actually going on if there are performance problems? What’s causing that? What stage, you know, what can we do to effect that? So you know we are seeing it evolve.”
Their partnership with NVIDIA and their Geforce NOW platform is also what makes this experience possible while looking at the constant evolution of the cloud and mobile gaming.
“What we’ve found time and time again is people know about it, but a lot of people haven’t physically touched or experienced it. Like ‘wait, I can play Fortnite on my iPhone or Baldur’s Gate 3 on a tablet?'”
“When I think about the evolution of mobile gaming it feels like you know, we’re really trying to blur the line between what you do at home – either on your PC or on your laptop – and just taking that out where the connectivity enables it to be completely seamless or opens up things that you wouldn’t really think of like intense and quality gaming. You know, what do we do behind the scenes to make sure that your experience on the go is close to replicating what you’re expecting at home.”
And that’s the bottom line really – that 5G network is shooting to provide a consistent and seamless mobile gaming experience without restricting you to mobile apps like idle tappers or tile puzzlers.
Sam and I geeked out on the behind the scenes tech for quite a bit, but we know what you want to know are the big hits – speed, specs – what is it I need to be able to run this mobile experience? The tests I’ve run before were on my home fiber connection, and I thought that the pure speed of 200 up/200 down is what made my RTX 4-series experience on a Chromebook possible. But according to him, that’s not always the case.
“So a lot of times it’s not even the processor in the mobile device that, you know, can be the bottle neck. It’s actually not always network connectivity speed that’s the bottleneck. So when you think about 200 megs or, you know, how fast when I do a speed test – what’s my device actually getting from the 5G network? When it comes to mobile gaming, sometimes that’s not the most important factor – the actual raw speed. What we found because of testing on the network engineering side of it – it’s more about the consistency of the speed. The jitter, so the timing of the packets and how they arrive and get sent to the destination. The latency – what’s the delay in the packet? Because we’re talking about a totally different type of connection where buffering for cloud streaming is really not going to work. If you’re getting 200 and drop down suddenly to 15 for whatever reason – that consistent nature of getting a good 30 or 40 megs that’s not dropping a lot of packets, and during periods of congestion there’s not a lot of collision – that’s what we have found really delivers the best part of the experience over raw speed.”
<deep tech speak on bands, packet transmission, handoffs, and traffic routing here>
So it’s quality over quantity when it comes to what supports this – their engineering is more focused on providing quality, consistent connection, with solid backend elements on traffic management, which is going to give a better experience even over a jittery gig connection. And even if you’re not on the latest Apple Bionic or Samsung Exynos chips or the biggest baddest Snapdragon out there, AT&T’s 5G tech can still provide this experience for you.
The differences between the back ends of those platforms as well as differences in infrastructure geographically are also always part of their design plans, and how that’s going to fuel the next level of technical roadmaps, looking at the most extreme use cases of the network to see what kind of pain they can push it to, and see how to fill those gaps based on a consumer base that is consuming data at a serious rate.
So what is that next level? We spoke a bit conceptually on that score. “What we’ve noticed is, in addition to gaming, you know, the lines are blurring a little bit when it comes to interactive live video, whether it’s streaming or FaceTime, or Teams calls, you know it blends and blurs, because the same usage and requirements is needed by all of that.” So what can we be looking at? Let’s Plays on a Galaxy S23 and a Bluetooth controller waiting for a flight at the airport? With the way we’re headed, that might not actually be too far off.
The real takeaway here was being able to see that extending your home gaming experience to wherever you are is a real thing, and we’re no longer hamstrung by 100% needing a console or gaming rig to get our game on, or lament being away from home when we really want to be at our gaming desk playing that new release. AT&T’s 5G network and dedicated gaming focus is looking to literally change the game for you.
You can check out the full experience in their video below: