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Will Test and Assurance at the Edge Mean the End of "Laggy" Gaming?


The current generation of gamers demand lower latency and a better user experience. New test and assurance platforms can create solutions aimed at helping operators and their hyperscaler partners accurately test and better manage edge-gaming use cases.

The competitive nature of online gaming means that milliseconds matter. Having the fastest connection, optimized router, even better screen refresh can make the difference between victory and ignoble defeat. As gamers strive for the most lifelike experiences, games have also become bigger, requiring more bandwidth, and hosting more concurrent players inhabiting the same world.

Popular console, PC and mobile game franchises like Battlefield, Call of Duty and Fortnite have in recent years undergone a transformation with 100+ people all fighting within the same map now a common feature. However, ambitious games like MAG (Massive Action Game) that tried larger numbers of concurrent players (boasting a Guinness World Record for Most Players in a Console FPS) encountered problems with delivery due to its reliance on inadequate online servers, that ultimately led to its closure.

Although the current generation of gaming platforms have the horsepower to make more concurrent players possible, the main limitation is connectivity, more specifically latency. To tackle this challenge, Internet service providers (ISPs) are now redesigning their networks to embrace edge-based computing which places game nodes within operator networks, closer to the players, to reduce overall latency and deliver a better gaming experience.

In simple terms, instead of running the game world on a distant server within in a hyperscaler’s cloud, the game server, or at least part of it, resides on servers hosted within the ISP’s network. This can benefit both fixed and mobile networks with the key being that instead of data packets from each gamer travelling potentially thousands of miles, generating extra milliseconds of latency each way, the data exchange takes place at a server that might be geographically in the same city or region.

Players that are all within the same ISP network or connected via single peering point will have much lower latency, and a gaming advantage. This means less of the dreaded lag and better fluidity of movement and hit detection that is the hallmark of well-received first-person shooter (FPS) style games. Players outside this framework, but playing the same game, are at a distinct disadvantage due to the latency delays of those extra milliseconds.

Edge-based gaming is in its infancy but accelerating fast. Verizon, a major US telecommunication provider, is testing a cloud-based and 5G-enabled gaming service that potentially uses its own edge to reduce latency. While recent job postings at Netflix suggests it is also gearing up for edge-based gaming utilising its Open Connect CDN infrastructure that is co-located within many operator networks.

With the value of the global gaming industry expected to exceed $320 billion by 2026, it is down to the developers, publishers, hyperscalers and network operators to work together to get the next generation of edge-empowered games to market.

However, this emerging industry still faces the challenge of quantitatively understanding what the experience is really like for gamers using these innovative new platforms. The sheer diversity of gamer geography, gaming devices and networks, along with underlying game design, is a massive conundrum. Then add into the mix the delivery infrastructure which may reside within private or public clouds, and it becomes more challenging to identify the root cause of any potential issues.

To address this challenge, a new approach is emerging through state-of-the-art test and assurance platforms. Coupled with seasoned technology expertise, these new platforms are utilized to create solutions aimed at helping operators and their hyperscaler partners to accurately test and better manage edge-gaming use cases. This involves a consultative approach that is aligned exactly with the customer’s challenges, goals, and requirements. These test solutions use real-time network emulation powered by next-gen automation for validating the quality of gaming experience that assesses key factors including uplink and downlink latency telemetry and video frame quality of experience (QoE).

These solutions are initially focused on qualifying the mobile gaming experience – seen by many experts as the fastest growing part of the gaming industry and a key segment for early 5G adoption and hyperscaler market growth goals. Test platforms like these can run in public clouds and in a multi-access edge computing (MEC) environment within the operator network. As the testing process is within the heart of the end-to-end delivery chain, the test results tend to be highly accurate no matter how the gaming world is designed and deployed.

The Umetrix approach to mobile gaming validation.

Umetrix® Mobile Gaming Solution is one of the leading test platforms designed specifically for mobile gaming and offers several benefits. First, it provides granular real-time QoE data to operators and hyperscalers to provide an accurate view of how gamers are truly experiencing the mobile games being served via their respective platforms. Test results can also be used for service optimization, improvement, and capacity planning for future MEC rollouts. The test data can also be shared with developers to allow iterative improvements to the netcode and potentially help create better designed games that can effectively take advantage of edge computing and hyperscaler platforms. Lastly, it acts as a source of truth that is independent of any party involved in delivering the multiplayer experience.

Is game lag caused by the game server? Or due to the ISP? Is the hosting platform to blame? Or is it the game itself? The uncertainty over why some games run well, and others are “laggy” in gaming nomenclature may finally be answered with hard data rather than guess work.

The first of these mobile gaming QoE evaluation solutions for the live network are being adopted by real-world operators. The insights they reveal will be invaluable in helping the next generation of optimized edge-based gaming reach the mass market. Over the next few years operators and hyperscalers are banking on new edge-based iterations of popular multiplayer game franchises where the dreaded lag is a thing of the past. Testing with the right strategy now is the only way to get there.

Learn more about the advantages of Umetrix.

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Ken Rosenberg

Director, Product Management

Ken Rosenberg is a Product Line Director for Spirent Communications focused on the company’s Service Experience product line. Ken has over 20 years’ experience in wireless telephony. He has designed, built, and optimized some of the nations’ first commercial wireless networks. For the past 10+ years, Ken has focused on creating innovative products and services for the wireless industry. Ken has a passion for partnering with early adopters of new wireless technology and for turning previously unmet customer needs into successful products. Ken holds a BSEE from Cornell University with a concentration in telecommunications.