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Should operators roll the dice with cloud gaming?

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May 9, 2019

Online gaming in particular packs a punch, with Statista forecasting there to be over 730 million online gamers by 2020. This online community creates a social, competitive and engaging environment which has captivated a massive global audience, and in turn creates a huge opportunity for businesses.

Last month, Google launched Stadia, a cloud-based service hoping to become the Netflix of gaming. Likewise, Apple Arcade is Tim Cook’s attempt at a slice of the gaming pie. But, while these companies have the capital behind them to start-up these new ventures, they will also need reliable networks now more than ever to deliver the highest quality of streaming for their users. With the stakes so high, low-latency and high speeds could be the difference between a user winning and losing a game – and more importantly, staying with their service provider over a competitor.

To meet its promise, Stadia needs faultless symmetrical (two-way), high bandwidth connectivity. But Google cannot win this game on its own, it’s going to have to be a team sport; regardless of its intent to move gaming to the cloud, it’s going to need network partners to underpin its service delivery.

So, what can operators do to capitalise on this opportunity?

The early bird catches the worm 

While gaming has long been a lucrative industry, the arrival of the cloud has seen it truly come into its own. Cloud connectivity has seen gaming habits change, moving gamers away from physical consoles and hardware, and towards virtual gaming platforms and sessions, accessible anytime, from any device, all thanks to internet connectivity. 

Today, the only thing standing in the way of a gamer and their gaming platform is connectivity. While this is good news for gamers in creating this new on-demand service, it creates some issues, too; connectivity lags, high latency and network crashes can significantly impact the gaming experience. This in turn impacts the revenue potential of cloud gaming – users who have issues accessing a gaming service or platform will be less likely to spend money on in-game add-on services. For cloud gaming service providers, this is an uphill struggle, but thankfully, an operator-shaped solution is available.

When it comes to mobile connectivity, operators hold all the cards, and as a result, are key parts of ensuring gamer Quality of Experience (QoE). But what’s in it for them? Quite simply: more revenue. Operators must go beyond providing connectivity or else risk becoming just a ‘dumb pipe’. They need to capitalize on new digital services such as cloud gaming that rely on low latency bandwidth and allow them to offer value-added services, in addition to mobile connectivity. What’s more, with the cost of 5G so high, cloud gaming could be operators’ first 5G killer use case. Not only can 5G deliver the low latency and high-speed connectivity required for cloud gaming, but it also allows operators to meet the demands of data-hungry subscribers. 

Upgrading BSS 

5G connectivity alone is not enough for operators to capitalize on the cloud gaming experience, however. It is only by applying the correct level of policy control that operators will begin to reap the rewards of this digital service. At the heart of this lies a desperate urgency to upgrade ill-fit legacy BSS. Monolithic legacy BSS stacks are simply too slow to adapt to the mass deployment of products and services set to accompany 5G rollout. While operators have focused on BSS upgrades for some time now, many have favored a “big-bang” approach to BSS transformation, which is both time consuming and expensive, and often falls short of expectations. 

It is this upgraded BSS that will allow operators to carefully apply policy and network control tools to manage data usage per subscriber. In turn, this will enable operators to upsell and cross-sell digital services, such as gaming, to subscribers in different ways. From data gifting – whereby friends or family members can gift their own data to a subscriber of their choice – to zero-rated data whereby particular services or applications do not count towards a subscriber’s monthly data allowance. In addition to this, digital BSS will decrease time to market and enhance speed of delivery, with services capable of being deployed in days and weeks, rather than months. For an operator trying to ride the cloud gaming wave, time is of the essence, and it is exactly this level of agility and flexibility that will see operators successfully monetise the opportunities brought about by cloud gaming. 

What’s more, with 5G comes network slicing, and possessing the right policy control tools to apply on a per-slice basis will allow operators to carefully manage network usage, particularly important in guaranteeing gamers’ QoE. 

There’s gold in them games 

There’s no doubt that cloud gaming represents a huge opportunity for operators but its success will rely on operators’ ability to adapt to changing subscriber needs by embracing digital BSS and flexible, agile and 5G-ready policy control tools, and their willingness to partner with gaming providers. Much like Google alone cannot make its Stadia service a success, likewise, operators must create fruitful and collaborative partnerships that can make the future success of cloud gaming a reality. These partnerships, coupled with new technologies will see operators offer and monetise new digital services that will see them remain relevant in a 5G era and beyond. 

The opportunity is there, now’s the time for operators to take the plunge before it’s too late, or else, it could be game over.  

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