Games streaming services such as Google Stadia and Microsoft's Project xCloud are likely to be most affected by the delayed rollout of 5G networks across major markets.
That's according to analysts at App Annie and Sensor Tower, who spoke to GamesIndustry.biz following the news that both the US and UK have banned the use of mobile equipment from Chinese provider Huawei.
The BBC reports UK mobile providers have been banned from buying Huawei's 5G equipment after December 31 and must remove all of the firm's 5G components from their networks by 2027.
The decision follows a similar ban in the US. The Guardian reported over the weekend that the US ban and pressure from President Donald Trump contributed to the UK government's decision.
The controversy around Huawei centres around suspicions that its tech could be used to collect data and spy for the Chinese government -- something Huawei has repeatedly denied.
The ban means the planned rollout of 5G across the UK, for one, has been delayed, and with it the promise of faster internet connections that could enable and power more advanced mobile game concepts.
Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz, App Annie's director of market incited? Amir Ghodrati says it's "unlikely the delay... will have a significant impact outside of pushing out some gameplay innovations," although added that it could "hinder the wider adoption of cloud gaming services."
Sensor Tower's EMEA mobile insights strategist Craig Chapple adds: "While 4G does a great job, 5G ensures faster speed, better latency, and greater capacity, and the latter is important for a smooth gameplay experience in a busy area. While streaming services will still work, 5G will clearly enhance the experience significantly."
He continues: "Mobile game developers will create titles that are first and foremost accessible to as many players as possible. So delays in the rollout of 5G in key global markets may cause developers to think twice about releasing a game in the near future that would heavily rely on these networks. But don't expect the mobile games market to be severely impacted by a slow rollout. Streaming companies will take the biggest hit of 5G delays, as 4G is just simply not as fast or as reliable."
Cloud gaming has been a prominent conversation in the last few years across the games industry, with Google announcing and launching its Stadia service last year, and Microsoft currently trialling its own service, Project xCloud.
"5G in the long term will be instrumental in taking mobile gaming to the next level"
Amir Ghodrati, App Annie
The latter will become another pillar of the Xbox Game Pass subscription offering from September onwards, while Google has recently announced more exclusives in the hopes of driving further adoption of Stadia. While both of these services will operate well on desktop and laptop computers, the promise of being able to continue your gaming session on a mobile device while away from home has been a key promise from both.
It's unclear how much the Huawei ban has delayed 5G's rollout in the UK. The UK government's estimate is one year, although Ghodrati tells us some of the nation's tier one mobile operators believe it could be delayed by up to three years.
"This is a steep step up from the expectations of many that 5G would see significant advancements this year," Ghodrati says. "The UK government is now looking at an Open RAN initiative that could ease the impact of Huawei's removal. Despite the delay to 5G, publishers should act now to ensure future versions of their apps can take advantage of faster 5G connections, while looking into version updates to see which of their competitors are doing the same."
Chapple adds that it's worth remembering that a blanket rollout of 5G across the country will take "a long time and significant government investment."
Both analysts agree that the mobile gaming market is unlikely to be severely affected. Current mobile games cope very well on a 4G or even 3G connection; in fact, the top grossing games such as Pokémon Go, Candy Crush Saga and Gardenscapes have been leading the market for years, long before the arrival of 5G.
"The market will still thrive with or without 5G, as players are able to play these kinds of experiences smoothly, and even easily play real-time games such as Supercell's Brawl Stars, for example, or Tencent's PUBG Mobile," says Chapple. "Initial downloads are also small for most mobile games, so there's already a lack of friction when it comes to installs."
There are still high hopes for 5G when it does eventually spread across the UK and other major Western markets, with Chapple claiming the technology could lead to "experiences that simply aren't possible today."
"Firstly, 5G will quite simply make playing games online a much smoother experience for players, and will stop users switching off because of connectivity issues," he says. "Real-time gaming is the big winner here, as speeds will be faster, latency will be lower, and the increase in capacity of the 5G network means more people in the same area can do more online, with less chance of disruption."
Ghodrati, meanwhile, describes it as "a huge opportunity for the gaming industry as a whole" -- not just mobile.
"For the most part, the hype and news coverage that 5G has received has centred on the improved speeds it boasts, but it is the lower latency that will get gamers excited," he says. "The demand for competitive mobile online multiplayer games will undoubtedly make the lower latency of 5G a must have for many gamers that currently struggle with access to reliable connectivity."
He continues: "5G in the long term will be instrumental in taking mobile gaming to the next level, both through the connectivity upgrade and through the hardware upgrade in the shape of high spec 5G compatible devices. Another unique aspect of 5G is the wealth of additional use cases it enables, it is certain to allow for more innovation in the AR and VR games markets, especially in the mobile space.
"Even with potential delays, we would still expect 5G's true potential to be initially legitimized by the gaming industry before expanding to support industrial applications, like agriculture and logistics through the development of driverless cars and connected devices or the Internet of Things."