Game streaming services such as Google Stadia now face the same data cap issue many Americans have faced for years. However, with the likes of Google, Microsoft and Sony all now having skin in the game, the shift in power might be enough to sway ISPs to giving consumers access to unlimited data once again. Then again, it might not.
Many ISPs, including both Comcast and AT&T, currently place a limit on how much data a household can consume each month. Typically, that limit is around 1024 GB. While some of the companies do offer help for those who go over the limit, others don’t and will impose additional charges when exceeding the data cap. The one workaround is the price a consumer pays as most of these companies will provide unlimited data as long as the consumer is willing to pay more each month.
With the arrival of game streaming services like Google’s Stadia and Microsoft’s xCloud, unlimited data is no longer a luxury, but a requirement. This is to the point where it might be hard for these services to offer the product they intend to unless the limited data cap is removed. While some consumers can live with lower quality video streaming as a means to save on data usage, the experience most gamers are already accustomed to (through consoles and high-end PC gaming), dictates game streaming cannot operate with the same handcuffs in place.
Technically, data caps are not a new issue as those who like to ‘Netflix and chill’ will already be well-versed in the issue. As is Netflix, who is also well aware of the problems data caps place on its customers and by association, it’s business. Netflix itself publicly makes consumers aware of just how quickly a watch binge can eat through a data cap and how to adjust the settings to minimize the impact. According to Netflix’s own numbers, streaming in HD (the plan most Netflix users are subscribed to) eats up to 3 GB of data per hour. Those already paying a higher monthly rate for Ultra HD access can expect up to 7 GB of data to be eaten each hour. However, Netflix video streaming is not a patch on the amount of data game streaming is capable of digesting.
Take Google Stadia, for example. Google has published guidelines on what consumers will want to have in their streaming arsenal to make the most of the game streaming experience. The problem is, the numbers are not at all flattering. Google says playing at 720p results in up to 4.5 GB of data per hour. That’s the best case scenario for those looking to lessen the data demands. Those happy to meet in the middle with a “balanced” (Google’s words) gaming experience by upping to 1080p results in up to 12.6 GB data consumption per hour. Again, that’s the medium take as those looking for the best gaming experience Stadia has to offer will want to stream in 4K, and doing so will result in up to 20GB data use per hour. At the 4K rate, the standard data cap provided by most ISPs will mean an individual can game with Stadia in 4K for roughly 2 hours per day. Keeping in mind, that’s just for Stadia as it does not take into account any other data usage on the same network during the course of the same month.
Will ISPs simply hold their ground? While there is clearly a data cap issue facing game streaming companies and consumers, that’s not to say ISPs will give in and open up the data doors completely. Considering ISPs already offer consumers the option to pay more for unlimited it might be the case that ISPs stick to their existing line of thinking. After all, they are not stopping anyone from accessing unlimited data per month, just asking people who want unlimited data to pay for it. Of course, with Google investing heavily in Stadia, and Microsoft in xCloud, consumers wanting unlimited data, without paying premium prices, now have stronger allies than ever before on their side.
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