When Google first announced its cloud gaming service Stadia, we had high hopes. A “Netflix game” that allows you to play games on all devices anytime, anywhere? Register with us now! Of course, we quickly realized that Stadia is not the “Netflix of gaming” and will not allow you to play games on all devices (at least not at first).
However, with the launch of 5G networks across the United States, the possibility of playing anywhere is real. To test this, AT&T contacted us, hoping to try Stadia on its 5G network. AT&T provided me with a complete mobile Stadia kit, including official Stadia Premiere Edition (controller and Chromecast Ultra), Stadia Pro subscription, Google Pixel 4a 5G with AT&T SIM card, and even a Power Support Claw to connect everything Together.
I live in New Haven, Connecticut, where there is a very powerful AT&T 5G service. Can it handle streaming games from Google servers thousands of miles away? The answer is complicated.
Stadia on 5G: Find a location and stick to it
When I got the Stadia kit from AT&T, the first thing I did was set everything up. I connected all my devices to my home Wi-Fi network, activated my Stadia Pro subscription, and found a game to play (Chronos: From the Ashes). It only took me about 15 minutes to stream Chronos to my phone and had a great time.
You can also take a look: The best games on Google Stadia
Of course, the whole reason I got this kit was to test Stadia on 5G, not my home Wi-Fi network (I humbly admit that it is fast). I turned off Wi-Fi on Pixel 4a 5G, and I saw the small 5G icon in the upper right corner. I started Chronos again and found that the game was basically unplayable. Check out the video below to learn about dropped frames and freezes:
Obviously, this result shows that AT&T’s network is not fast enough for Stadia, at least not in my home. Check out the speed test results below to see what I mean:
But hey, why should I use 5G services at home? In order to conduct a real test, I need to go to the world. I went to downtown New Haven at the Yale University Center and tried my luck there. According to records, the city center is a five-minute drive from my home.
The speed test I conducted in the city center showed a different world. Check them out here:
With these faster speeds, Chronos: From the Ashes performed as well as it did on my Wi-Fi. The frame rate is stable, the controller delay is minimal, and everything looks clear. I even sat in the passenger seat, and my girlfriend drove us around and played without problems.
Obviously, Stadia on 5G is entirely possible, but you need to find a well-served area and stick to it.
However, Stadia’s mobile issue is too bad
In the previous section, I mentioned how I turned off Wi-Fi on Pixel 4a 5G and played Stadia on 5G at home. However, this is not the whole story. You see, the official Stadia controller itself connects to Wi-Fi to reduce input delay. This means that if the controller and screen (Pixel 4a 5G in this case) are not on the Wi-Fi network, they will not work properly.
You can also take a look: Google Stadia and GeForce Now
Now, there are several ways to solve this problem. The first one is obvious, which is to give up the Stadia controller in exchange for something else, such as an Xbox or PlayStation controller. Those connected to your phone via Bluetooth, this will introduce some input delay, but at least it does work. Confusingly, the Stadia controller does support Bluetooth, but not when playing Stadia games. seriously.
Another solution is to use a cable to connect the phone and Stadia controller together. This has the advantage of keeping the input delay low, but the disadvantage is the need for cables.
Google did not make Stadia easy to use on the mobile web.
A more tricky option is to use the phone as a hotspot and play it on a different screen. Tablets, laptops and even a second mobile phone can make this possible.
However, the first problem here is that none of these solutions are obvious. The Stadia controller is not equipped with a USB-C to USB-C cable, so it is not obvious to use it on a mobile device. Using a secondary controller — or worse, a secondary screen — seems to completely negate the entire purpose of using a Stadia controller.
In addition, the Stadia application itself cannot help you solve this problem. When I tried to use the controller wirelessly on the AT&T network, it didn’t say: “Hey, you need a USB-C cable to do this.” It failed completely and said I need to connect it to Wi-Fi. It’s useless at all, Google.
Stadia uses 5G under certain conditions
Although Stadia has inherent mobility issues, the test shows that the service works well on both Wi-Fi and 5G, assuming you play a game in a specific scenario:
- 5G services in your area are active and strong.
- You are relatively still in that area.
- The large amount of data consumed by Stadia is not a problem for you (ie you have unlimited data). I see Stadia consumes about 100MB of mobile data every minute.
If you don’t meet all these three criteria, then you might be terrible to use Stadia on 5G.
related: What is cloud gaming?
Unfortunately, at this point, the dream of being able to ride a train and stream games on a 5G network is unrealistic at this point (this is where the Steam platform can come in handy). 5G is not universal enough, so you will face outages every few minutes. However, it is certainly possible to hang in an airport or coffee shop and be able to play games on 5G-as long as you can afford unlimited 5G data.
Of course, unless Google makes the official Stadia device easier to use with the mobile network, it will never be truly convenient.