The next generation of video game consoles, such as Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4, are already set to give unlimited broadband ISPs in the United Kingdom a headache due to their new streaming services. But that’s only half the story and those wishing to download games will soon be gobbling in excess of 50GB (GigaBytes) per title.
Over the past two years we’ve seen a strong resurgence of the “unlimited” approach to usage allowances and downloads. Most of the big broadband ISPs have now chosen to abandon restrictive Fair Usage Policies (FUP) in favour of a “truly unlimited” model. Meanwhile many of those that have retained a variable Traffic Management Policy (TMP), such as Virgin Media, still offer “unlimited downloads“.
As broadband speeds have risen then capacity appears to have become cheaper but it’s by no means free and crucially consumer Internet access remains a shared “Best Efforts” service (i.e. a small group of heavy users can still hamper the speeds for others). Indeed we still hear reports about ISPs oversubscribing their capacity in some areas and thus creating big performance drops.
But now that “unlimited” is back, how long will it remain? The advent of 4K Ultra HDTV is imminent and the quality of online content, especially video streaming, continues to rise. Meanwhile the new generation of video games are using higher quality textures and requiring more and more storage space. The latest example of this is the new PS4 game Killzone: Shadow Fall, which if you buy and download it online will gobble up 50GB of data. Not so long ago 30-50GB was considered standard usage for a whole month and many still view it as such.
Fergal Gara, Sony’s UK Managing Director, said (EG):
“First of all, it is definitely going to grow as a means of consumption. And there are big innovations in the PS4 to make it more attractive and more easy gamer wise to want to download. The Play as you Download functionality, for example, means you don’t need the whole file before you go.
This is a little bit counterbalanced by the fact the files themselves are getting bloody big. Killzone: Shadow Fall is an uber file – I think it’s cracking on for 50GB. It looks it, too, when you see it.”
The question is will all this additional strain begin to stretch the tight economic models of some “unlimited” providers, especially the cheapest (e.g. TalkTalk, Tesco, Primus Saver etc.)? So far the ISPs don’t appear to be too concerned and most believe that they can handle it. But that’s usually based on current levels of growth and the above suggests that systems like the PS4 and Xbox One could challenge existing assumptions.
Only yesterday PlusNet reported that traffic from online video games over its network, including related downloads, accounted for just 2% of its overall total (here). Admittedly that’s fairly small fry but related traffic has risen by 50% in the last 12 months and that’s before 4K video / TV streams and next gen consoles have become widely adopted.
In fairness most broadband users, even those who would love to download 50GB games at a fair price and without having to queue in a store, might still find the idea unattractive because their real-world speeds remain so poor. But schemes like the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) project are slowly changing all that and the next 5 years could create an interesting test for the unlimited model, as well as the underlying infrastructure. Equally it could prove to be a killer app for faster fibre optic based connections and that might create a useful counterbalance.