With 'Videogames in the Cloud', we introduced our take on the recently announced Stadia cloud-based videogame platform
Relying on the Google’s network of datacenters to run any game in the cloud, the Stadia gaming platform is a departure from the technology underlying videogame software today, obviating the need for a dedicated console to download a game or render it from a disc
Reminiscent of iTunes, Apple’s music download platform, Stadia is a game changer, anticipating wider access to fast broadband
Provided the new platform lives up to the hype in terms of fluidly streamed animation, there is a lot more to Stadia than meets the eye and this is presumably Google’s roadmap as well
Stadia, what is in a name?
Stadia, plural of the Latin ‘stadium’, has thrown some commentators off track
Indeed, stadia, built across the Roman Empire, were surely entertainment but also political statements of the power and the reach of Rome’s legions
In a sense, the stadia were arenas – where Roman citizens shared entertainment and interacted in many ways …and the ambition of the Google platform is no different
Beyond videogames, we can think of deeply transformative applications that will make use of streamed videos, involving multiple viewers accessing on simple devices
- Virtual classrooms – interacting with educators without further need of infrastructure – will presumably boost the existing on-line universities
- Extending the reach of education in emerging markets, beyond the capital cities and far into the countryside, the platform could upend conventional thinking about knowledge sharing
- Healthcare, already in the first stages of profound evolution with medical robotics, could distribute diagnostics by streaming the visit of a patient at light medical stations, where assistants, interacting with the remote instructions of a medical team, will help the sick, take samples and distribute medication
- Industrial applications, possibly geared for fast take-up of the technology, are too numerous to list, from quality control of manufacturing in remote areas to personnel training on new equipment
Our imagination undoubtedly reflects poorly how transformative a streaming platform might be for human activities, but the thrust is unmistakable
None of these developments can be expected to happen overnight, accounting for febrile resistance of established institutions, from universities to hospitals...
But demography in emerging markets, to reign in the build-up in China’s tier 1 and tier 2 larger cities and to stem migration out of Africa’s forlorn countries, to give just two examples…, will prove to be an irresistible force for change
Provided technology follows through…
Broadband for all
Reserving a seat at the head of the table, Google is running ahead of broadband capabilities worldwide
According to Google, Stadia will deliver HD (video resolution of 1080 pixels) quality streams at 60fps (frames per second) on a stable 25Mbps (megabits per second) connection (the next level – 4K quality – with optimal video resolution of 2160 pixels – will start at around 30Mbps)
Unsurprisingly, Stadia will be available in the regions with the high broadband connections – in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and parts of Europe in 2019
The 2018 report -- based on data from M-Lab, a partnership between Google Open Source Research, Princeton University's PlanetLab and others -- ran 163 million individual speed tests in 200 countries
According to Stadia head of engineering Majd Bakar, Google's data center network relies on "fiber optic links and subsea cables between hundreds of points of presence and more than 7,500 edge node locations around the globe, all connected with our network backbone"
In so many words, the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have their work cut out, Google is ready …
But the ISPs will be slow – the larger the area (and the less densely populated), the more costly coverage will be – China is a case in point with high resolution in tier 1 cities (Shanghai at 18 Mbps in 2017) and a very low average (at 2.4 Mbps) for the country at large. 5G is expected to change all this…
Latency times – the server response times to pings – will be an additional challenge, if the Stadia controller connects over older Wi-Fi networks and in multiplayer mode…
In short, the countries – and the cities – with advanced networks will be primary targets, and testing grounds for Stadia
But as the potential of the platform, beyond gaming, becomes clear with demonstrable experimentation, especially in the sparsely populated regions, in Africa but also in poorly served regions of South America, India or China, the incentives to complement the existing networks with Communication Satellite systems will grow stronger
In past form, video gaming with ever higher resolution and details has pushed for higher console performance with more advanced graphics cards from Nvidia or AMD ...
Tomorrow, Stadia is betting that gaming will, once again, be the standard bearer of a profound transformation where advanced infrastructure (ISP networks and data centers) matter very much, but also where individual devices (mobile or TVs) focus exclusively on connectivity – and not on computing power
A new world – down the road ?