Wireless broadband is the Internet connection method of choice for many South Africans, and with LTE on the horizon, the gaming experience using mobile services are about to get much better.
Long Term Evolution (LTE) is the next step for mobile broadband in South Africa, offering far higher speeds and lower latency than current 3G (HSPA) services.
Features of LTE include an all-IP flat network architecture and end-to-end quality of service provisioning. The technology further supports download speeds of up to 300Mbps and upload speeds of up to 75Mbps.
As South African gamers who battle with relatively expensive fixed-broadband services which are not widely available, wireless internet connections are often the only choice. With LTE on the horizon, it is interesting to investigate the potential the technology has for gaming services.
MyGaming spoke to SA’s mobile operators to gauge what LTE means for gaming in SA.
Vodacom has run a live trial of LTE integrated into its current network, and a company spokesperson told MyGaming that their initial trials have been concluded. As of May 2012, approximately 60% of Vodacom base stations were LTE ready. “The main thing we need in place from here is access to sufficient spectrum. In the meantime we’re also continuing to invest in transmission,” said Vodacom.
We asked about the potential of LTE for gaming purposes, as low latency is paramount. “It’s tough to make any blanket predictions, but on paper it has the potential to deliver the fastest yet mobile connection with sub-100ms latencies,” said Vodacom.
Speaking to the potential of LTE to compete with ADSL in terms of gaming service quality, Vodacom said that “the throughput could even be higher, but on the downside, jitter will never be as good as with copper.” Jitter is a term that refers to the variance in ping across multiple tests.
Vodacom provided some screencaps from Speedtest results on their LTE trial network.
MTN launched a Long Term Evolution pilot in clusters around Gauteng in July 2011.
“It was important that MTN trials the rollout to identify and address any teething challenges,” said Kanagaratnam Lambotharan, chief technology officer at MTN SA.
“MTN’s pilot network encompasses approximately 150+ LTE sites in clusters covering parts of Sandton, Fourways, Centurion, around OR Tambo International Airport, and additionally in the vicinity of MTN Head Office in Roodeport. These will be expanding depending on our spectrum re-farming efforts.”
“All 150+ LTE sites are currently live and the pilot is running on 10Mhz of re-farmed 1,800MHz spectrum and boasts speeds of 70Mbps and a latency of under 15ms,” said Lambotharan. “The speed is almost twice as fast as what is currently available on the market.”
“LTE is excellent for gaming as it has extremely low latencies. The user experience is comparable to a high-speed fixed line environment. It is difficult to predict expected real-world download speeds, upload speeds, and latencies, as the real live environment is different and user loading also has an impact.”
“LTE is expected to give much better overall speeds so as to give a better consistent experience to more users. Depending on the network configuration, real live speeds vary between 2Mbps to 66Mbps. If you are the only user, [local] latencies in a fibre backhaul environment should be anything between 10ms to 50ms.”
Finally, we asked MTN what is holding back the roll-out of LTE in South Africa. “MTN believes that any significant increase in broadband penetration will be delivered through wireless services. In order to promote and encourage this uptake, mobile networks require access to the identified “high demand spectrum” for the deployment of their LTE networks. MTN is obviously guided by the regulatory on this matter,” said Lambotharan.
Amith Maharaj, senior managing executive for Telkom Mobile, said that Telkom are testing and trialing LTE. “We are also in the process of updating the core network architecture and network capacities to provide a better experience on existing deployed mobile technologies and future deployed technologies.”
“The LTE architecture allows for lower latency and higher average throughout per user compared to other mobile technologies. This is a benefit for online gaming, voice and other realtime applications,” said Maharaj. “Depending on the implementation and architecture deployed, similar latencies are available on 3G. LTE allows for higher average throughputs per user.”
Speaking about average download, upload, and latencies, Maharaj said: “The peak and average throughputs are a function of the spectrum and planned parameters. We are testing various parameters to dimensioning peak and average throughputs per user, however we can’t provide a definitive view at this stage.”
Maharaj echoed the comment by MTN, indicating that spectrum availability is hindering the launch of LTE in South Africa. LTE device ecosystem and market size are also concerns, Maharaj said.
Cell C was asked for comment but had not responded by time of publication.