When it comes to gaming, should CSPs offer cloud services now or wait for 5G?
- Telcos see cloud gaming as key to driving consumer 5G uptake and revenues
- However, cloud games and gaming-on-demand are already available on existing networks...
- … so waiting for domestic 5G availability could cost network operators dear
- Operators should use their broadband assets now so as not to lose out completely to the likes of Stadia
Hitherto, the main 5G focus has been on the enterprise and business users, and with good reason. Telcos and service providers have rightly regarded vertical industry business sectors as key to getting commercial 5G services and apps up, running and providing revenue streams.
Consumer 5G has taken a back seat during the early bedding-in phase but now network operators and CSPs/DSPs are seeking quick and comparatively easy wins to drive domestic 5G subscriptions. Telcos regard gaming as one of the few consumer services that will help drive 5G uptake in the home environment. The technology's extra bandwidth, ultra-low latency and ultra-fast throughput speeds make 5G ideal for delivering cloud-based games to customers to play across a range of connected devices - not only laptops and smartphones but also set-top boxes, tablets and smart TVs.
It's certainly a strategy but cloud games and gaming-on-demand are already routinely available without 5G and, by holding back and waiting for 5G to become ubiquitous in the consumer space, telcos run the risk of losing out on a major opportunity by handing it to big name brands and established gaming giants such as Google Stadia, Microsoft xCloud, Sony Playstation Now and nVidia GeForce Now.
French company 'Blacknut', headquartered in Rennes in Brittany, provides players with a personalised cloud gaming service across a large selection of premium video games. Speaking with TelecomTV this morning, the founder and CEO of Blacknut, Olivier Alvaro, a former CTO of Orange, said, "The strength of the carriers is in their networks. Connectivity is already there. CSPs should play to those strengths and use the assets they have to allow subscribers to enjoy cloud gaming across existing networks, fibre broadband, ADSL, 4G etc. There is no need for them to wait."
He's right. Some telcos (Deutsche Telekom and Italy's TIM being prime examples) understand what is happening with customers and see cloud gaming as integral to their strategy for broadband - and in due course - consumer 5G. Others though are waiting for 5G to be available just about everywhere before moving to offer such services and could lose out, big time and for all time, to the likes of Google, Sony and Microsoft.
To avoid that possibility, Olivier Alvaro says, CSPs must understand and accept that the cloud gaming opportunity goes beyond mobile and thus can be exploited now and then extended into the 5G environment when it becomes available. He adds, "We are already working with fixed operators who use fibre to deliver gaming services to customers at home."
A "Netflix-like" entertainment service`? The jury's out
Quite a few cloud-gaming-as-a-service companies have made extravagant claims to the effect that they intend to provide a "Netflix-like" entertainment service. So far, not many have succeeded. Olivier Alvaro says that Blacknut will buck that trend because the company aims fundamentally to change the video game industry by creating a service where users can access a big catalogue of curated premium games, play them without limit across all devices and without the requirement for dedicated hardware. What's more, games can be started on one device, continued on another and then finished on yet another.
The service is subscription-based (it's €15 a month in Europe) and users get access to a selection of over 400 top-notch games and never have to pay separately for each game they play. Games and other features are regularly refreshed and no controllers or additional hardware is required. Blacknut currently supports PC, Mac, Amazon Fire TV, Android mobile devices, Android TV, and Linux with more connected devices to be added in the near future. All that's needed for access to the game-players nirvana is an Internet connection - and there, of course, is the rub.
Blacknut relies on real-time streaming and that requires a connection fast, robust and resilient enough to ensure stable streaming and an enjoyable user experience over the course of a session. On its website, the company says a download speed of at least 6 Mbps is "highly recommended to for an optimal experience" and that "a slower Internet connection may result in data loss and… audio and video glitches."
This is where quality of service at operator level comes in. As Olivier Alvaro says, "Operators own their networks and can prioritise packet delivery and guarantee quality of service for streamed video, otherwise we [Blacknut] would be dependent on a flow of content which is beyond our control. This is where 5G will be vitally important."
It is evident that the features of the Blacknut service could well differ according to the device being used and the company says that connectivity is tested each time a subscriber launches the application to inform the users if the connection is optimal. If it isn't, presumably the player has to try again later. That or go outside and play a solo game of socially-distanced boules.
The Blacknut platform is available across Europe and North America and, apart from telcos and CSPs, the service is also distributed by major ISPs, device manufacturers, OTT services and other media companies. Blacknut partners include Swisscom, Samsung, Nokia, Amazon and the games publisher Gameloft.
Olivier Alvaro stresses that the company's hybrid cloud architecture allows customers and partners quickly to bring their services to market and then scale-up according to demand. A methodology, he says, designed specifically to meet the needs of CSPs which, depending on their requirements, might want to use private cloud, public cloud, or a combination of both. He adds that Blacknut can launch a telco service using public cloud and then migrate it over to the telco’s own infrastructure, or vice versa. It is also completely vendor-agnostic and thus very flexible.
Olivier Alvaro says the company is in a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship with CSPs and other clients and is "open to investment on the part of carriers on the basis of partnerships" that will enable both parties to meet their individual (and joint) objectives. He adds, "The strategy is to make our independent platform a unique bridge between connectivity providers on one side and content originators, publishers and providers on the other where CSPs and others distribute content to consumers."
It's early days for Blacknut but the company has made a solid start and is quickly acquiring new carrier customers who realise that where cloud-gaming is concerned to wait for 5G is to waste an opportunity.
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