Telstra pushes 5G’s latency advantage

Stages Gold Coast eSports demo over 5G

Telstra, in conjunction with Ericsson and Intel, has used a demonstration of online gaming to push the low latency characteristics of 5G wireless as one of the key benefits of the technology.

The public demonstration, held at Telstra’s 5G Innovation Centre on the Gold Coast, saw two teams of professional players do battle in Counterstrike: Global Offensive over the centre’s 5G network and using a locally hosted server.

Ping tests to a Gold Coast server showed 5G latency at 6 milliseconds compared to 20 milliseconds for Telstra’s 4G network.

In real-world applications latency will be determined as much by the distance between end users and the servers providing the content or applications they access as the 5G network.

Both Telstra and Optus have focused on latency as a key 5G feature. Just a month ago Optus opened a 5G demonstration pavilion on the Gold Coast during the Commonwealth Games. The pavilion housed demonstrations designed to show the low latency of 5G.

Telstra’s demonstration used 400MHz of spectrum in the 26GHz band, made available under a test licence, and a suitcase-sized 5G device from Intel connected to the gamers’ PCs over Ethernet.

For its demonstrations Optus used its existing 3.5GHz spectrum and all traffic was routed through a device about the size of a two litre softdrink bottle (which bore a close resemblance to a Huawei device) that Optus said would be offered to consumers from January 2019 to provide fixed 5G access.

Telstra’s executive director network and infrastructure engineering Channa Seneviratne told Computerworld that, as part of the development of its 5G ecosystem, Telstra was also looking at the role of edge computing to minimise latency.

“Where is the right place for edge computing in the network?” he said. “We are talking about disaggregation… We might have some capability in a central data centre, but we see ourselves pushing out into regional centres to take processing closer to end users to help with latency — and in some cases right to [for example] a factory.”

When asked if this meant Telstra having a greater role in the provision of end user applications, Seneviratne said: “One of the purposes of the Innovation Centre is co-operation. It is about bringing use cases to light: inviting our customers and partners, current and future, to talk about creating those use cases.

“And we would certainly see that just providing connectivity is not how we are going to monetise this new technology. We have to go up the value chain, and partner with people where we can provide those applications to create a complete solution.”

At this early stage of 5G deployment, Seneviratne said Telstra was talking to as many industry segments as possible.

“I have presented to banks, to the Department of Defence, and to government,” he said. “The whole idea has been to talk about 5G and its possibilities and to get those folk thinking how they might apply the technology.”

He added: “We are introducing 5G in 2019 but we think the take-up will really start in 2020. So by then we want to [have worked] hard to develop the use cases and bring them to reality.”

 “There will be a consumer broadband play, but it is not where we will make a lot of money,” he added. “The margins and ARPU are already being squeezed… I think there will be niche areas like gaming where people will be prepared to pay a premium.”

Augmented reality and virtual reality are also areas where 5G’s strengths will shine, he said.

Professional eSports players are keenly awaiting the arrival of 5G, for its bandwidth as much as its latency, according to Frank Li, CEO of The Chiefs, which hosts the Counterstrike team that played in the demo.

Li told Computerworld that his organisation currently required fibre to the premises connections for the gaming houses where professional eSports players train.

Seneviratne said that in China a mobile operator was already offering application-based pricing on cellular where users could pay for higher bandwidth and lower latency to play games. “It is quite a premium, but serious gamers are prepared to pay it,” he said.

This ability to perform network slicing is a key feature of 5G but Seneviratne said it would likely be some time before Telstra would offer a service based on it.

“We will work towards creating network slicing, but although you can create a 5G network slice fairly quickly you have to create a slice through the end-to-end network and those things take time… That is the whole intent of our network transformation project and our move to a virtualised world. This is a work in progress. There is a lot of sophisticated engineering work to get us to that point.”

He said access to spectrum was one of the most pressing issues for Telstra’s 5G plans. “We would like to be in a position where the spectrum auctions for the mid band, 3.6GHz, had been completed. That is happening later this year.”

“The government is making available 120MHz. We would have liked a bit more. [And] we are hoping the government will bring forward the auction for millimetre wave [26GHz] because that will really unleash the capacity.”

The author travelled to the Gold Coast as a guest of Telstra.

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