Why network design is critical for cloud gaming revenue

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Asia-Pacific has an estimated 1.23 billion gamers and I’m one of them. I’ve been a console owner for as long as I can remember but have become a more casual player in recent years. Staying up to date with the latest hardware is now less important to me than it was in my younger years, despite still wanting to play many of the latest games. Thankfully, as cloud gaming takes hold, that issue could soon be a thing of the past.

Cloud gaming is essentially live-streamed delivery of video games, which is emerging as big business in the rapidly growing Asian gaming market. Gaming revenues in Asia topped $70 billion in 2018, more than twice that generated in North America. This has since led to a slew of investments from enterprises looking to capitalise on what’s coming next and in support of a cloud gaming future, like Microsoft’s partnership with SK Telecom to operate its xCloud service in South Korea. Google Stadia is also soon expected to launch in Asia to join what is becoming a highly competitive space.

However, the success of cloud gaming isn’t guaranteed. It depends heavily on the underlying network and how much low-latency traffic can be supported during periods of high demand. With existing network design this will be difficult to manage at scale as they’re not able to dynamically allocate resources, as needed and on the fly. This poses an issue, particularly as cloud gaming requires a steady two-way data stream. And, from a capacity perspective, initial reports from Google suggests that Stadia can use between 4GB and 20GB of data per hour.

In the gaming world, every millisecond counts. Even a small delay can make or break whether this bet made by the industry pays off. So, there is huge pressure on cloud gaming servers to not only process data in real-time but transmit it just as quickly. As a result, 5G networks and emerging edge computing technologies will be needed to make this possible and process user inputs just as fast, thanks to inherent low latency benefits that 5G promises. But cloud gaming’s success won’t happen with 5G alone. There will also need to be an evolution in network design and management.

Automation is the key to future of gaming

To cater for surges in video streaming traffic created by new cloud gaming services, networks must be able to automatically adapt in response to the ebb and flow of changing user demand; evolving from a traditional static network design to a more flexible, adaptive approach.

This starts with the effective use of data analytics to unlock actionable insights. By uncovering what pressure is placed on the network, it’s possible to predict when and where resources will be under strain, gaining a holistic view of overall network performance. From there, introducing machine learning and artificial intelligence enables automatic reallocation of network resources towards data intensive use cases, which is important to ensure the delivery of a low-latency experience where needed. This approach creates a more sustainable and efficient network. One that’s less susceptible to sudden bandwidth spikes and is instead capable of automatically self optimising based on the ongoing intelligent analysis of what’s happening at any given moment.

This network evolution must extend to telcos, too. As 5G is set to become a building block upon which new cloud gaming services will launch, mobile operator networks must also evolve to address these demands. Working closely with telcos that are undertaking a similar shift towards AI-driven, programmable infrastructure to make the most of every available network resource will be important for enterprises in protecting their growing investment into cloud gaming platforms.

Driving revenue requires a new network design

Together, adaptive network design, automation, programmable network infrastructure, and carefully selected operator partnerships will be key to long-term cloud gaming growth. Highly optimised networks are no longer a nice to have. In fact, in today’s streaming-centric age, they’ve become a necessity.

The ability to intelligently scale resources up and down as required will prevent bottlenecks that could otherwise spell the end of cloud gaming. Instead, this capability will ensure consistent video delivery without any degradation to streaming quality – essential to gamer immersion and a high-quality experience worthy of subscription. By getting this right, the gaming industry can offer a comparable console experience to attract casual gamers like me and keep us coming back for more.

Article written by Henry Kim, President and General Manager, Ciena North Asia Region

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