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The Importance of Benchmarking for Gaming and Other Latency-Sensitive Applications in 5G


Latency and gaming experience are quickly rising in prominence for 5G benchmarking. Service providers (SPs) need unbiased and industry-recognized evidence to validate their mobile network’s performance. Learn how benchmarking validates the user experience against the competition to verify marketing claims and identify areas for service optimization.

Gamers are passionate about their craft. Their demand for online games continues to drive the need for better, faster online gaming experience. Feeling the frustration when the game gets “laggy” or trying to get a jump on a gamer with whom they are competing, gamers will frequently seek out new and better hardware, software, and internet services.

Indeed, the gaming experience is a key driver in the search for better, faster, 5G wireless. Moreover, gaming is a well-established indicator of the performance of the service provider’s network. If the gamers are choosing a network, it’s because it’s better. And that performant network is the one that will win subscribers for all next generation applications, from vehicle-to-vehicle applications to augmented reality (AR).

So how does a service provider, wanting to attract gamers to their network, go about winning them over and keeping them there?

You can market to them, claiming your network is better. Or you could offer price discounts and packages suited to them. This may work in the short term. But by far the best way to win over gamers and keep them for the long term is to deliver a better user experience on your network than the competitors. And the first step in doing so, is to start measuring that experience.

If you can’t measure it, you don’t know if you’re delivering a better experience than your competitors. If you can’t measure it, you don’t know where, in your coverage area, the experience is good and where it’s bad. If you can’t measure it, you don’t have verifiable evidence to make marketing claims. And if you can’t measure it, you don’t know what aspects of the experience you need to improve. For example, you may deliver the best download bandwidth, but if your upload speeds are limited or latency to the gaming servers is high, the gamers experience may be worse on your network than that of your competitors.

In short, if you can’t measure it, and your competitors can, you will lose.


If you can’t measure it, and your competitors can, you will lose.

To measure gaming experience, of course, requires establishing a set of quantifiable metrics that are proven to accurately reflect the quality of that experience. It requires:

  • Selecting test equipment capable of efficiently and accurately testing to take those measurements

  • Planning to ensure coverage and accuracy

  • Handling the logistics to complete the drive tests, walk tests and stationary tests (both on your live network and your competitors) throughout your coverage area

  • Gathering all the data and performing the deep analysis to understand what that data means

That analysis must be impartial and verifiable. The primary focus of this data is on the overall quality of experience (QoE) for the end user. These insights are the key to making the most efficient investments needed to deliver the best service.

5G mobile network performance benchmarking: The proven approach

Given the complexity of 5G, how do you go about achieving this complex requirement?

The answer is widely acknowledged and growing in popularity: SPs are turning to expert partners to perform this function on their behalf.

To get accurate, reliable information, the choice of a qualified vendor-neutral test partner is key. Working with a pioneer in testing mobile QoE under real-world conditions, with recognized leadership in 5G testing and validation, and extensive experience with new and existing mobile technologies from leading industry players, is essential. The ability to utilize proven methodologies and test plans, based on global cloud-based measurement systems, ensures success. The partner’s credibility is also based on the customer’s ability to rely on complete confidentiality of results and reports to substantiate marketing claims.

Significant technical challenges exist here. 5G is evolving not to just be faster, but to have differentiated traffic classes such as ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLLC) or massive Machine-Type Communications (mMTC) that could be used to substantially improve gaming performance. 5G introduces blazing speeds with the millimeter wave (mmWave) technology, but that comes with huge coverage challenges as those frequencies do not have the reach or ability to penetrate obstacles that lower frequencies have. As well, an array of new handoffs between 3G, 4G and 5G must be addressed. How will these impact the gaming experience? Further, with the advent of mobile edge computing (MEC), there are possibilities to locate the gaming servers closer to the user, further enhancing the experience, while at the same time increasing network complexity.

Logistical challenges are also considerable. The benchmarking process must validate the network’s performance across a wide range of testing criteria and produce outputs based on a comprehensive methodology incorporating KPIs defined by the SP and focused on the mobile user experience in specific locations.

Key solution components of this process include state-of-the-art test equipment, trucks and scheduling systems, walk testing, drive testing, and expert testing engineers who cover a range of geographic locations. The testing methodology must account for select devices under test (DUTs), involve complete operator networks, and provide centralized data collection, analytics, and outputs.

With the results, the provider may indeed verify their claims of differentiation that will drive marketing efforts, or they may realize they need to improve to gain their competitive edge. Either way, the testing is the first step in winning over these subscribers and ensuring the network is suited for all the next generation 5G applications.

Gaming latency and wider considerations on QoE

At Spirent, we’re often asked, “What level of latency is good enough?” Typically, these people seek a simple numerical answer; something like: “20ms round-trip latency is all you need.” But of course, no such answer exists. The required latency level, just like the required level of upload or download bandwidth, depends on the application. In applications such as gaming, AR, and many machine-to-machine control applications, the latency requirements are dramatically more stringent than less interactive applications like video playback or download. Moreover, just like with bandwidth levels, what is “good enough” today will not be good enough tomorrow. As providers start offering lower latency services, applications will be developed that simply would not have been possible when running over high-latency networks. These applications will, in turn, drive the need for lower latencies still.

There is, however, a simple answer to the question of “What level of latency is good enough? The answer is, “Whatever level is better than your competition.” And the first step to getting there, is to start measuring it.

To learn more, download our solution brief and visit our 5G Network Benchmarking page.

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Chris Purdy

Head of Service Assurance Strategy, Spirent

Chris Purdy is the head of Service Assurance strategy at Spirent. A strong contributor at MEF, Chris was the editor of MEF 29 and MEF 79, served two years as co-chair of the LSO Committee and is currently service as Co-chair of the Digital Services Committee. Chris spent 9 years as CTO of CENX (acquired by Ericsson in 2018) and 4 years as CTO of Nakina Systems (acquired by Nokia in 2016). Prior to this, Chris held numerous roles within Nortel ending as Director responsible for Nortel’s Optical Ethernet solution.