Pokémon Go can fast forward with Mobile Edge Computing

In case you missed it, Pokémon Go, developed by Niantic for iOS and Android devices, is a free mobile game that allows players to capture, battle and train virtual Pokémon that appear throughout the real world. The game uses your phone’s GPS and clock to detect where and when you are in the game and make Pokémon “appear” around you (on your phone screen) and superimposes them using your camera so you can go and catch them.

This mix of a game and real world interaction known as “augmented reality” has been around for more than a decade. As smart mobile devices became ubiquitous, many experts predicted that augmented reality technology for mobile devices will take off. Pokémon Go is the first viral hit, although there have been other similar games including Niantic’s own Ingress (which you probably did not hear about).

While it is impossible to argue with the game’s success, Pokémon Go is simplistic and rough around the edges. User interactions are very limited and the transition from virtual maps to camera views is abrupt (even with a cute Pokémon lurking on the other side). For now, users are forgiving. As the novelty of a new toy wears off, this will probably change and users will demand better performance and more engaging capabilities.

Looking forward may see Pokémon Go to try and meet rising user expectations by introducing new features; such as real-time interactions between players. At the same time, it is almost certain that more games, trying to emulate the success, will bring to market location based AR games for mobile devices.

As the mobile AR games become more sophisticated and offer interactivity, latency will play an increasing role in the user experience. To feel authentic, there should not be a perceptible delay between action and visible response (AKA end-to-end latency). Delays exceeding 20ms make the virtual scene unrealistic and even annoying.

Just imagine the frustration: you and “your opponent” are racing to get that rare Pokemon spotted in the park. You see it and swipe first. Unfortunately, your mobile connection was a bit slow at that moment, so you lost.  Mobile networks are notoriously slow. Even today’s fast 4G networks are much slower than the sub 20 ms latency required for an authentic AR gaming experience.

Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) can transform mobile networks into real-time location-based gaming arenas. By bringing cloud-computing inside the Radio Access Network (RAN), MEC enables AR mobile games to operate as close as possible to the end-user. Since closer is faster, MEC can deliver ultra-low-latency and real-time responses while avoiding backhaul network bottlenecks.

MEC can accelerate Pokemon Go interactions

 The MEC Advantages:

Authentic AR experience: MEC delivers 10ms latency needed for interactions to feel real. This means that each physical action is seamlessly extended into the digital world – with no perceptible delay. The “real feel” plays a crucial part in user engagement and retention.

Real-time interactions and fights: In the original Pokémon game, players would engage in Pokémon battles. MEC provides the ideal gaming platform for location-based peer-to-peer interactions. Two players, who are in the same place physically, will be connected directly through the local MEC platform. As a result, every action and reaction will be immediate.

Smooth delivery: The available bandwidth in mobile networks, and especially the radio access, fluctuates dramatically over time.  This makes smooth delivery of video content and complex object very difficult. MEC can provide real-time Throughput Guidance, enabling the gaming service to dynamically adapt the content resolution and bandwidth.

With the meteoric rise of Pokémon Go, augmented reality has made a grand entry into the mobile gaming arena. As Niantic and others strive to deliver better, richer gaming experiences, the current mobile network architecture can be a huge hindrance.  Accelerating the deployment of MEC will be essential to realizing the potential of these games in terms of players’ user experience and the business value for both gaming vendors and mobile operators.

Location-based AR gaming is a lucrative opportunity for mobile operators to partake in the fast-growing market segment. A virtualized MEC solution, like Saguna Open-RAN, creates an agile service platform where games can easily be orchestrated on and off. A game can even be monetized as an on-demand service.

There is not time like the present to, in the words of Pokémon Go, “catch them all”.