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Mobile Games to Place Strain on 3G Networks

Sarah Thomas
6/8/2011
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Multi-player, video-centric social games, and the smartphones developed to enable them, are shaping up to be a hot new trend in mobility, promising to test the limits of wireless operators' 3G networks.

Mobile gaming has been struggling to gain traction since Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) introduced the NGage gaming smartphone in 2003. The phone was a niche product at best, but the proliferation of mobile broadband, the popularity of casual game apps such as Angry Birds and the introduction of tablets has changed the landscape. (See Angry Birds Like Carrier Billing.)

"Gaming, little by little, has become an integral part of the mobile experience," says Patrick Lopez, founder and CEO of Core Analysis.

Now Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) is ushering in a new wave of gaming with smartphones built around the experience. Last week, its mobile division, Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications , showed off the Xperia Play at Uplinq , and on Monday Sony unveiled its new PlayStation Vita, a powerful mobile extension of its console that is exclusive to AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T). (See Sony Taps AT&T for Playstation Vita, Qualcomm Brings Games to Snapdragon and Verizon Unleashes the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play.)

Sony unveiled the phone at its E3 conference and was met with groans and boos when its partner was announced. The obvious reason for the displeasure is AT&T's less-than-stellar network performance reputation owing to iPhone overload.

The Vita, and its two-way cameras, six-axis motion sensors and three-axis electronic compass, won't help that equation. Even if games are played on Wi-Fi, the smartphone will leverage AT&T's 3G network to bring social media features to the experience, letting players interact with friends in the PlayStation network, use location to find other nearby players and share game information across devices.

And we're not talking about games like Snake, either. The latest and greatest include multi-player features, high-definition content, intensive streaming video and extra interactive features that will strain both the uplink and downlink of a 3G connection.

Eventually, augmented reality and 3D will become more common as well, adding extra weight to the network.

Bytemobile Inc. , which tracks apps' effect on the network, has seen an uptick in the use of both mobile gaming and social networking apps. The two categories have a similar effect on the 3G network, according to Bytemobile Director of Product Management Mikko Disini. A game such as "Words With Friends" (similar to Scrabble) may not be as popular as a social app like Facebook , but because of the interactive nature of the game it can have just as much impact on networks, says Disini.

Granted, neither games nor social networking apps are as data-hungry as mobile video yet, but the more capable the games get, the more attractive carrier-grade Wi-Fi or Long Term Evolution (LTE) will become.

"What's going to drive and push traffic is [the launch of] new games that will take into account, and really exploit, the fact they are run on a mobile device," Lopez says. "It's a market that's at a tipping point and will become more prevalent in the next few years."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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