Following a series of low key announcements and tweets, Niantic has finally unveiled their long term technology strategy: they are betting on 5G. In a video published today (“Accelerating Our Augmented Reality Vision With 5G Networks”), Niantic employees and Phil Keslin (Niantic Chief Technology Officer) highlighted key benefits that 5G brings to the table:

Here are some key takeaways if you can’t watch the video at work / school:

  • AR is the “killer app” for 5G and Niantic is super excited about it
  • Codename Neon requires the latency and bandwidth improvements that 5G brings
  • 5G unlocks new massive shared AR experiences, such as the fabled Mewtwo raid at Times Square
  • Niantic is partnering with carriers to push forward 5G adoption and development

Generally speaking, 5G is a huge deal for the mobile industry as a whole. The speed and latency improvements it offers are exceptional, especially for game developers. A quick comparison table illustrates these improvements perfectly (via 5g.co.uk):

Download Speeds
4G real world 20Mbps average
4G theoretical 300Mbps
5G real world 10-50Gbps
5G test environment 1Tbps
Latency
4G 50 milliseconds
5G real world 1 millisecond

Piggybacking on these improvements, a lot of really cool AR experiences become readily available – we’re talking about shared AR, Codename Neon style PvP and even the fabled Times Square Mewtwo raid. 5G is really the key that unlocks these experiences, as shared AR scenarios tend to require significantly better bandwidth and latency than the current networks infrastructure offers.

For gaming purposes, latency is the main problem in real time multiplayer scenarios – especially when they evolve a large number of players. Think of World of Warcraft raids for example, where groups of 20-ish players fight against a raid boss with complex, often time-sensitive, mechanics. If you ever raided with bad latency, you know how frustrating this gets.

With that being said, what is Niantic doing for 5G? Well, here’s the shortlist:

“We expect this partnership to jointly demonstrate the capability of this new network technology to enhance high-speed synchronous multiplayer AR interactions in a shared environment.”

So, why is it a big deal that Niantic is reaching out to carriers, universities and industry leaders in order to promote 5G? Well, it’s simple: they want to be on top. AR gaming has just started, it’s a new genre Pokemon GO basically invented in 2016 and actually made fun in 2018 with AR Plus. It’s still early days, and what we have today should probably be called geo-gaming and not real AR gaming, but regardless of the name, Niantic is the market leader in this space. Seeing a AR market leader show aggressive interest into an emerging technology can only mean one thing: they want to use it to make better, bigger and more profitable AR experiences. Which is a good thing for us all – if you ask me.

If you wanna dive deeper into 5G, this video is a good start (it’s from 2017 and it is a bit outdated, but it covers all the basics):