Bandwidth Caps - How it can destroy Cloud Gaming, and help it grow
Opinion

Bandwidth Caps - How it can destroy Cloud Gaming, and help it grow

Lucas
Lucas

Bandwidth Caps...

The bane of anyone's existence if you use a significant amount of internet data each month.

For most, this will probably not be an issue. A Netflix stream here, a download there, for the most part, you will not hit your bandwidth cap.

But, what if you found this exciting technology called "Cloud Gaming," and you wanted to give it a try?

Well, you should probably take a good look at your internet plan and see what your bandwidth cap is.

What is Bandwidth?

what-is-bandwidth
Image Credits: Christopher Burns

According to Paessler, bandwidth "is measured as the amount of data that can be transferred from one point to another within a network in a specific amount of time."

Anything you do that requires internet access will use bandwidth. Whether this is streaming the latest episode in your favorite Netflix series or uploading data to the server of your favorite MMORPG that you play, everything you do that requires internet access is using bandwidth.

What are Bandwidth Caps?

If you live in the United States, then you probably already know what bandwidth caps are.

Most Internet Service Providers in the United States limit the amount of bandwidth you can use over a single billing period. This limit is a bandwidth cap.

Depending on your internet service plan, this cap can range from 100GB to upwards of 1-5TB of data.

Once you hit these bandwidth caps, you are charged overage fees dependent on the amount of data used past your limit. Companies charge anywhere from $0.15 per GB to upwards of $10-15 per GB.

Such a big jump is why you should always know your internet service plan and what fees you should expect if you ever go over your bandwidth cap.

Bandwidth Caps and Cloud Gaming

cloud-gaming-stadia-controller
Image Credits: Cristiano Pinto

So, now that we have a brief understanding of what Bandwidth and Bandwidth Caps are, it is time to get into the main course of this post.

How Bandwidth Caps can affect Cloud Gaming.

Let us start by going over just how much bandwidth Cloud Gaming can use.

Cloud Gaming services like Amazon Luna, Google Stadia, and GeForce Now can use around 10-15GB of bandwidth per hour while streaming your favorite game at 1080p.

This bandwidth usage varies depending on your streaming resolution. If you decide to stream in 4K, expect to use upwards of 20-30GB of bandwidth per hour.

Then, Cloud Gaming services like Shadow are highly dependent on the bandwidth settings you have set in the client. However, the per-hour usage should be around the same as other Cloud Gaming services, as long as you optimize your bandwidth settings in the client.

So, now that you know the per-hour usages, it is time to calculate how much you can use your favorite cloud gaming service before you hit your bandwidth caps.

1080p|60FPS streaming

Usage: 15GB per hour

100GB Cap: 7 hours of gaming
500GB Cap: 33 hours of gaming
1TB Cap: 68 hours of gaming
5TB Cap: 341 hours of gaming

4K|60FPS streaming

Usage: 25GB per hour

100GB Cap: 4 hours of gaming
500GB Cap: 20 hours of gaming
1TB Cap: 40 hours of gaming
5TB Cap: 200 hours of gaming

Looking at the above numbers, depending on how much you game, you could easily hit the lower bandwidth caps reasonably quickly.

Even with a 1TB data cap, you could only play 2-3 hours per day if all you do is stream games through your internet. Any more than that, and you could hit your bandwidth cap.

But, most people are not just gaming on their internet. Many watch YouTube, stream Netflix, download programs, surf the internet, and many other things that count towards this bandwidth cap.

Hopefully, seeing these numbers help understand bandwidth caps and cloud gaming a bit better.

How Bandwidth Caps can hurt Cloud Gaming

playstation-controller
Image Credits: Alexey Savchenko

So, you saw the numbers. You now know how long one can typically use their favorite cloud gaming service before hitting their data cap.

Does your data cap affect your decision on trying out and/or using a cloud gaming service?

It most likely does. If you are one of those that are stuck with less than a 1TB bandwidth cap, it is likely that you will end up with overage charges unless you keep an eye on your monthly bandwidth usages.

That can be time-consuming and stressful, so you may opt out of attempting to use these services due to the risk of expensive bandwidth overage charges.

Your bandwidth cap affected your decision to use a Cloud Gaming service, thus removing the chance that this service would acquire another user.

Bandwidth caps could also affect the user experience of some cloud gaming services.

Suppose you use a service like Shadow that allows you to adjust your bandwidth usage in the client. A user may opt to use only 5-10mbps, using roughly 2-4GB of bandwidth per hour, thinking that it would save them from reaching their cap.

But now, since the client is not using enough bandwidth to display the image on the user's computer correctly, they get upset that the experience is "poor and unplayable." So, they take to Social Media sites where they get upset at the service.

Other people can see these claims and change their minds about using the services without knowing the whole story, again costing potential users for the cloud gaming service.

How Bandwidth Caps can help Cloud Gaming

xbox-controller-gaming-monitor
Image Credits: Sam Pak

Innovation. That is all I need to say for this one.

However, to better explain myself, when you have a limitation, a lot of the time, you find ways to make the best with what you have.

This methodology also works for companies. In this case, for Cloud Gaming, it is the fact that bandwidth caps are a thing, and users want to limit the bandwidth used.

That is why you see services like Amazon Luna recently releasing the ability to stream at 720p, or why services like Xbox Cloud Gaming launched with 720p streaming only, and are just now testing 1080p.

Users want to game, but they do not want to hit their bandwidth caps.

That feedback makes its way to Cloud Gaming providers, and they end up figuring out ways to help these users without affecting the overall experience of their service.

These improvements could be the ability to stream at a lower resolution or framerate, utilizing a lower color accuracy, compressing audio, resolution upscaling, and many other features.

With the advancement of AI and technology like NVIDIA's DLSS, it is becoming easier for companies to develop ways to bring you the same experience while using less data.

Although bandwidth caps can negatively affect cloud gaming services, they can also force the company to innovate and gain more users due to the innovations.

Final Thoughts

In my opinion, bandwidth caps are unnecessary in today's world. With a good chunk of businesses switching to work from home or hybrid style due to the pandemic, the requirement of ISP bandwidth caps has become a little more sleazy.

With people on video calls, working on the internet more, transferring files, their bandwidth usage could skyrocket. Even without cloud gaming, people could hit these caps and are forced to pay overage fees or upgrade to a newer internet plan.

Understandably, ISP's have to make enough to cover costs of upkeep on their equipment, but bandwidth caps appear to be more for lining the ISP's pockets vs. actual equipment upkeep.

But that is just my opinion :).

If you have bandwidth caps, keep an eye on them, especially if you cloud game!


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