It might have been hidden inside a thick plastic case and locked inside a plastic cube, but at MWC 2019 OnePlus showed a prototype of its first 5G phone to the public for the first time. The device was connected to a local 5G base station with an mmWave connection, the variant of 5G that focuses on high data throughput at the expense of range. In the last few days the company has recently confirmed via a Finnish carrier that it expects to launch it in the second quarter of this year.
Aside from showing off what was happening on the device’s screen, OnePlus wasn’t sharing too many new details about the handset, other than to say it was an entirely new device rather than an upgrade to an existing phone. However, the company said that the device could hit a maximum speed of 500 Mbps, although the demonstration content (a 60fps HD stream) was only using around 15 Mbps. It also seemed as though the device’s screen didn’t have a notch, although this could have been hidden for the puposes of this demonstration.
The content being shown on the 5G device was a live stream of Ace Combat 7 provided by Shadow, a cross-platform cloud gaming service. Although we weren’t able to play a game using the phone’s touchscreen, we were provided with an Xbox One controller which was connected to the phone via Bluetooth. The game itself was being streamed directly from the cloud, from a server located in Amsterdam.
Since Spain’s 5G network isn’t yet widely available, the actual 5G part of the connection was limited to a small mmWave base station that had been installed over the Qualcomm booth. From this base station, the traffic then travelled across a more traditional internet network to the cloud-based server.
This setup meant there were plenty of variables which impacted upon the speed of the connection. Whether it was the controller’s Bluetooth connection or the fact that the phone was communicating with a remote server over a network that was overwhelmingly not 5G, the game itself felt laggy. I’d press an analogue stick, and half a second later the plane on screen would respond. Playing a full PC game on a mobile was novel as a proof of concept, but the demonstration stopped short of showing how 5G could make it viable.
In the end, the demonstration raised some uncomfortable problems about the realities of early 5G deployments. Without a widespread support from telcos, there will still be plenty of bottlenecks in the network that will limit its potential speed. Then, since services like Shadow were originally designed to work on 4G networks, they’re unlikely to want to rely too much on needing the kinds of speeds that 5G is capable of. I don’t doubt that the 70 Mbps connection required for a 4K game stream will one day be possible, but we’re not there yet.