Cloud gaming: What is the telco play?

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Drivers for cloud gaming services

Although many people still think of PlayStation and Xbox when they think about gaming, the console market represents only a third of the global games market. From its arcade and console-based beginnings, the gaming industry has come a long way. Over the past 20 years, one of the most significant market trends has been growth of casual gamers. Whereas hardcore gamers are passionate about frequent play and will pay more to play premium games, casual gamers play to pass the time. With the rapid adoption of smartphones capable of supporting gaming applications over the past decade, the population of casual/occasional gamers has risen dramatically.

This trend has seen the advent of free-to-play business models for games, further expanding the industry’s reach. In our earlier report, STL estimated that 45% of the population in the U.S. are either casual gamers (between 2 and 5 hours a week) or occasional gamers (up to 2 hours a week). By contrast, we estimated that hardcore gamers (more than 15 hours a week) make up 5% of the U.S. population, while regular players (5 to 15 hours a week) account for a further 15% of the population.

The expansion in the number of players is driving interest in ‘cloud gaming’. Instead of games running on a console or PC, cloud gaming involves streaming games onto a device from remote servers. The actual game is stored and run on a remote compute with the results being live streamed to the player’s device. This has the important advantage of eliminating the need for players to purchase dedicated gaming hardware. Now, the quality of the internet connection becomes the most important contributor to the gaming experience. While this type of gaming is still in its infancy, and faces a number of challenges, many companies are now entering the cloud gaming fold in an effort to capitalise on the new opportunity.

5G can support cloud gaming traffic growth

Cloud gaming requires not just high bandwidth and low latency, but also a stable connection and consistent low latency (jitter). In theory, 5G promises to deliver stable ultra-low latency. In practice, an enormous amount of infrastructure investment will be required in order to enable a fully loaded 5G network to perform as well as end-to-end fibre5G networks operating in the lower frequency bands would likely buckle under the load if lots of gamers in a cell needed a continuous 25Mbps stream. While 5G in millimetre-wave spectrum would have more capacity, it would require small cells and other mechanisms to ensure indoor penetration, given the spectrum is short range and could be blocked by obstacles such as walls.

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A complicated ecosystem

As explained in our earlier report, Cloud gaming: New opportunities for telcos?, the cloud gaming ecosystem is beginning to take shape. This is being accelerated by the growing availability of fibre and high-speed broadband, which is now being augmented by 5G and, in some cases, edge data centres. Early movers in cloud gaming are offering a range of services, from gaming rigs, to game development platforms, cloud computing infrastructure, or an amalgamation of these.

One of the main attractions of cloud gaming is the potential hardware savings for gamers. High-end PC gaming can be an extremely expensive hobby: gaming PCs range from £500 for the very cheapest to over £5,000 for the very top end. They also require frequent hardware upgrades in order to meet the increasing processing demands of new gaming titles. With cloud gaming, you can access the latest graphics processing unit at a much lower cost.

By some estimates, cloud gaming could deliver a high-end gaming environment at a quarter of the cost of a traditional console-based approach, as it would eliminate the need for retailing, packaging and delivering hardware and software to consumers, while also tapping the economies of scale inherent in the cloud. However, in STL Partners’ view that is a best-case scenario and a 50% reduction in costs is probably more realistic.

STL Partners believes adoption of cloud gaming will be gradual and piecemeal for the next few years, as console gamers work their way through another generation of consoles and casual gamers are reluctant to commit to a monthly subscription. However, from 2022, adoption is likely to grow rapidly as cloud gaming propositions improve.

At this stage, it is not yet clear who will dominate the value chain, if anyone. Will the “hyperscalers” be successful in creating a ‘Netflix’ for games? Google is certainly trying to do this with its Stadia platform, which has yet to gain any real traction, due to both its limited games library and its perceived technological immaturity. The established players in the games industry, such as EA, Microsoft (Xbox) and Sony (PlayStation), have launched cloud gaming offerings, or are, at least, in the process of doing so. Some telcos, such as Deutsche Telekom and Sunrise, are developing their own cloud gaming services, while SK Telecom is partnering with Microsoft.

What telcos can learn from Shadow’s cloud gaming proposition

The rest of this report explores the business models being pursued by cloud gaming providers. Specifically, it looks at cloud gaming company Shadow and how it fits into the wider ecosystem, before evaluating how its distinct approach compares with that of the major players in online entertainment, such as Sony and Google. The second half of the report considers the implications for telcos.

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Cloud gaming: a complicated ecosystem
    • The battle of the business models
    • The economics of cloud gaming and pricing models
    • Content offering will trump price
    • Cloud gaming is well positioned for casual gamers
    • The future cloud gaming landscape
  • 5G and fixed wireless
  • The role of edge computing
  • How and where can telcos add value?
  • Conclusions

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Cloud gaming: New opportunities for telcos?

Gaming is following video to the cloud

Cloud gaming services enable consumers to play video games using any device with a screen and an Internet connection – the software and hardware required to play the game are all hosted on remote cloud services. Some reviewers say connectivity and cloud technologies have now advanced to a point where cloud gaming can begin to rival the experience offered by leading consoles, such as Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation, while delivering greater interactivity and flexibility than gaming that relies on local hardware. Google believes it is now feasible to move gaming completely into the cloud – it has just launched its Stadia cloud gaming service. Although Microsoft is sounding a more cautious note, it is gearing up to launch a rival cloud gaming proposition called xCloud.

This report explores cloud gaming and models the size of the potential market, including the scale of the opportunity for telcos. It also considers the potential ramifications for telecoms networks. If Stadia, xCloud and other cloud gaming services take off, consumer demand for high-bandwidth, low latency connectivity could soar. At the same time, cloud gaming could also provide a key test of the business rationale for edge computing, which involves the deployment of compute power and data storage closer to the end users of digital content and applications. This allows the associated data to be processed, analysed and acted on locally, instead of being transmitted long distances to be processed at central data centres.

This report then goes on to outline the rollout of cloud gaming services by various telcos, including Deutsche Telekom in Germany and Sunrise in Switzerland, while also considering Apple’s strategy in this space. Finally, the conclusions section summarises how telcos around the world should be preparing for mass-market cloud gaming.

This report builds on previous executive briefings published by STL Partners, including:

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What is cloud gaming?

Up to now, keen gamers have generally bought a dedicated console, such as a Microsoft Xbox or Sony PlayStation, or a high-end computer, to play technically complex and graphically rich games. They also typically buy a physical copy of the game (a DVD), which they install on their console or in an optical disc drive attached to their PC. Alternatively, some platforms, such as Steam, allow gamers to download games from a marketplace.

Cloud gaming changes that paradigm by running the games on remote hardware in the cloud, with the video and audio then streamed to the consumer’s device, which could be a smartphone, a connected TV, a low-end PC or a tablet. The player would typically connect this device to a dedicated handheld controller, similar to one that they would use with an Xbox or a PlayStation.

There is also a half-way house between full cloud gaming and console gaming. This “lite” form of cloud gaming is sometimes known as “command streaming”. In this case, the game logic and graphics commands are processed in the cloud, but the graphics rendering happens locally on the device. This approach lowers the amount of bandwidth required (sending commands requires less bandwidth than sending video) and is less demanding from a latency perspective (no encoding/ decoding of the video stream). But the quality of graphics will be limited to the capabilities of the graphic processing unit on the end-user’s device. For keen players that want to play graphically rich games, command streaming wouldn’t necessarily eliminate the need to buy a console or a powerful PC.

As well as relocating and rejigging the computing permutations, cloud gaming opens up new business models. Rather than buying individual games, for example, the consumer could pay for a Netflix-style subscription service that would enable them to play a wide range of online video games, without having to download them. Alternatively, cloud gaming services could use a pay-as-you-go model, simply charging consumers by the minute or hour.

Today, these cloud gaming subscriptions can be relatively expensive. For example, Shadow, an existing cloud gaming service charges US$35 a month in the U.S., £32 a month in the U.K. and €40 a month in France and Germany (but there are significant discounts if the subscriber commits to 12 months). Shadow can support graphics resolution of 4K at 60 frames per second and conventional HD at 144 frames per second, which is superior to a typical console specification. It requires an Internet connection of at least 15 Mbps. Shadow is compatible with Windows 7/8/10, macOS, Android, Linux (beta), iOS (beta) and comes with a Windows 10 license, which can be used for other PC applications.

At those prices, Shadow is a niche offering. But Google is now looking to take cloud gaming mainstream by setting subscription charges at around US$10 a month – comparable to a Spotify or Netflix subscription, although the user will have to pay additional fees to buy most games. Google says its new Stadia cloud gaming service is accessible from any device that can run YouTube in HD at 30/60 frames per second (fps), as long as it has a fast enough connection (15–25Mbps). The consumer then uses a dedicated controller that can connect directly to their Wi-Fi, bypassing the device with the screen. All the processing is done in Google’s cloud, which then sends a YouTube video-stream to the device: the URL pinpoints which clip of the gameplay to request and receive.

In other words, Stadia will treat games as personalised YouTube video clips/web-pages that a player or viewer can interact with in real time. As a result, the gamer can share that stream easily with friends by sending them the URL. With permission from the gamer, the friend could then jump straight into the gameplay using their own device.

What is cloud gaming?

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • What is cloud gaming?
    • Why consumers will embrace cloud gaming
  • Ramifications for telecoms networks
    • Big demands on bandwidth
    • Latency
    • Edge computing
    • The network architecture underpinning Google Stadia
  • How large is the potential market?
    • Modelling the U.S. cloud gaming market
    • New business models
  • Telcos’ cloud gaming activities
    • Microsoft hedges its bets
    • Apple takes a different tack
  • Conclusions
    • Telcos without their own online entertainment offering
    • Telcos with their own online entertainment offering

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Connected TV: Forecasts and Winners/Losers (UK Case Study)

Summary: our in-depth look at the UK’s highly competitive digital TV market which reflects many global trends, such as competition between different types of content distributor (LoveFilm, YouTube, Virgin Media, BBC, BSkyB, BT, etc.), channel proliferation, new devices used for viewing,  and the increasing prevalence of connected TVs. What are the key trends and who will be the winners and losers? (August 2011, Executive Briefing Service)

Chart from Connected TV Figure 2 telco 2.0

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Below is an extract from this 23 page Telco 2.0 Report that can be downloaded in full in PDF format by members of the Telco 2.0 Executive Briefing service here. Non-members can buy a Single User license for this report online here for £595 (+VAT) or subscribe here. For multiple user licenses, or to book a place at our Digital Entertainment 2.0 workshop on New Business Models for the Home Video Entertainment market in Europe – Lessons from America at our London Executive Brainstorm on 8th November, please email contact@telco2.net or call +44 (0) 207 247 5003.

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Introduction and Background

With every wave of innovation, there are always winners and losers. In this note we examine who are likely to be the winners and losers in the UK as increasingly, TVs become connected to the internet.

While it is difficult to generalise with TV markets across the globe as the markets are fundamentally different in structure, especially with key variables such as PayTV penetration, state broadcaster involvement and fast broadband penetration varying widely, the comprehensive range of players and highly competitive nature of the UK market makes it a useful benchmark for many key global trends.

The UK TV Market

According to OFCOM’s latest research, there are 26.6m TV households in the UK with 60m TV sets or an average of 2.25 TV sets per household.

TV Viewing

Figure 1 – Average UK TV Viewing Per Day

Chart of average UK TV viewing to 2010 Fig 1 Connected TV Article Telco 2.0

Source: BARB.

TV viewing over the last few years has been remarkably resilient despite the internet and other platforms competing hard for attention. Where the TV market differs is that average consumption is very strongly proportional to age. In typical technology adoption cycles, adoption is indirectly proportional to age. This presents a real challenge to the connected TV market: the main TV consumers are more than likely to be adverse to technological change.

TV Device Manufacturers

Figure 2 – Annual UK TV Set Sales by Type 2002-2010

Chart of annual UK TV Set Sales to 2010 Fig 2 Connected TV Telco 2.0

The long term volume trend for TV manufacturers has been healthy. This has mainly been due to the innovation in device form and screen quality, with flat screen and HD features becoming the norm. TV manufacturers are now hoping that internet connected TV’s will generate another spurt in growth. Samsung and Sony are the UK market leaders.

But the challenge is the replacement cycles. With a 60m installed base of TV’s in the UK, and assuming that all the 9.5m TV’s sold in 2010 are replacements and not simply increasing the number of sets per household, the implication is that the replacement cycle is currently roughly every six years at a minimum. This is relatively slow when compared to two years for mobile phones and three years for laptops, and this in turn suggests that the adoption rate for standalone connected TVs will be much slower than the technology cycles for these devices.

While we expect internet connectivity to become a pretty standard feature with TV over the next couple of years we are sceptical about their active use for viewing video. The content offering is currently too limited. We would be surprised if within a couple of years, there are more than 1m homes regularly using TVs to watch video over the internet.

Set Top Boxes

The Set Top Box market in the UK falls into two categories: a subsidised segment which the consumer generally gets either for free or heavily discounted by their PayTV provider; and a retail segment where the consumer generally pays a full price and gives the consumer access to a limited set of free to air (FTA) channels and quite often DVR features.

In the subsidised segment, the market leader is Sky which currently manufacturers its own boxes. All the current models contain internet connectivity but require a subscription to Sky Broadband service to access Sky’s closed pull VOD service, Sky Anytime+. Sky has seeded the market for quite a few years with its Sky+ HD boxes which are currently in a minimum of 3,822k UK homes. We say a minimum because the figure is for homes with a HD subscription and Sky also installs a HD box for homes who do not subscribe to HD. This market seeding strategy accounts for the high initial take-up of the Sky Anytime+ service of 800k in the first quarter of launch. Since the service is effectively free, or rather bundled into the Sky TV and Broadband prices, we expect a rapid take up and within a couple of years Sky will have over 4m homes with their main TV connected to the internet.

Virgin Media has chosen TiVo as its exclusive connected set top box provider. The TiVo box is more open than the Sky box with the future promise of allowing independent Flash developers to deploy applications. TiVo is off to a steady start with around 50k homes in the first quarter of 2011. We expect TiVo adoption to be slower than Sky because the need for a new box which is priced at £50 with an ongoing service fee of £3/month. We expect these prices to reduce over time, but still can envisage an uptake of over 2m homes within two to three years assuming effective promotion by Virgin Media.

Another interesting opportunity is the launch of YouView. YouView is expected to come in two flavours, subsidised by CSPs and retail. BT and TalkTalk are shareholders, and are committed to launching YouView boxes by Pace and Huawei respectively in time for the London Olympics in 2012. Humax is committed to launching retail boxes. It is too early to properly forecast demand for YouView as neither the pricing or applications have yet been revealed. However, we struggle to see an installed base of over 1m homes even with the large base of broadband connections that BT and TalkTalk can market the product to.
All the original BT Vision set top boxes were manufactured by Pace (through their purchase of Philips) and need to be connected to BT broadband and therefore the whole of 575k subscribers count as connected TVs. We expect over time for BT to replace these BT Vision boxes with YouView boxes.

The major problem for YouView is that it is a proprietary UK standard whereas other European countries are committing to the hbbTV standard. This places other set top box makers in something of a quandary – will the UK market be large enough to support product development costs? Sony, Technicolour and Cisco have already publically stated that they have no current plans to develop a YouView box.

Other commentators express confidence in the Bluray players to provide the TV connectivity. We are bears of Bluray players and think the market will be niche at best.

Games Consoles

Figure 3 – Gaming Console Household Penetration

Chart of Gaming Consoles per UK Household Fig 3 Telco 2.0

Source: Ofcom residential tracker, w1 2011. Base: All adults 16+ (3,474)

Around half of UK homes contain a games console. The market is dominated by Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo and a growing number of consoles are connected to the internet. Primarily, for online gaming, but also for watching video content either via the internet or through playback of physical media such as DVD or Bluray.

Figure 4 – What UK Consumers use games consoles for

Chart of uses of gaming consoles 2010 Fig 4 Telco 2.0

Source: Ofcom residential tracker, w1 2011. Base: all adults 16+ with access to a games console at home (1,793).

We expect Gaming Consoles to become the most important method for secondary TV sets to connect to the internet, especially in children’s bedrooms. As more and more gaming moves online, we can easily see 75% of gaming consoles regularly connecting to the internet (c. 10m). However, the proportion using the console for regularly viewing video will remain small, perhaps as low as 20%. This will mean that although important Gaming Consoles will be secondary to STB’s for watching video over the internet.

To read the note in full, including additional analysis on…

  • Communications Service Providers (CSPs)
  • BT
  • Sky
  • Virgin Media
  • TalkTalk
  • Others
  • ‘Mainstream’ TV Channels
  • The BBC
  • New Entrants and Online Players
  • LoveFilm
  • Google – YouTube
  • Apple
  • Conclusions

…and the following charts…

  • Figure 1 – Average UK TV Viewing Per Day
  • Figure 2 – Annual UK TV Set Sales by Type 2002-2010
  • Figure 3 – Gaming Console Household Penetration
  • Figure 4 – What UK Consumers use games consoles for
  • Figure 5 – Main UK CSPs – Broadband and TV reach
  • Figure 6 – Take-up of multichannel TV on main sets
  • Figure 7 – Video on demand use in Virgin Media Homes
  • Figure 8 – Total UK TV Revenue by Sector
  • Figure 9 – UK TV Channel shares in all homes 1983-2010
  • Figure 10 – UK Online TV revenues by type of service
  • Figure 11 – Unique audiences to selected online film and TV sites
  • Figure 12 – Unique audiences to selected video-sharing sites
  • Figure 13 – Forecast of Connected TV market by device in 2013
  • Figure 14 – Table summarising strategy and winners/losers by type 19

Members of the Telco 2.0 Executive Briefing Subscription Service can download the full 23 page report in PDF format here. Non-Members, please see here for how to subscribe, here to buy a single user license for £595 (+VAT), or for multi-user licenses and any other enquiries please email contact@telco2.net or call +44 (0) 207 247 5003.

Organisations and products referenced: Amazon, Apple, AppleTV, BBC, BSkyB, BT, BT Vision, Cisco, Flash, Google, Huawei, Humax, ITV, LoveFilm, Microsoft, Motorola, Nintendo, O2, OFCOM, Orange, Pace, Philips, Samsung, Sky, Sky Anytime+, Sky Go, Sony, TalkTalk, Technicolour, TiVo, TV manufacturers, Virgin Media, YouTube, YouView .

Technologies and industry terms referenced: Bluray, catch-up TV, Connected TV, Digital Terrestrial, DVD, DVR, flat screen, free to air, Games Consoles, hbbTV, HD, IPTV, online, PayTV, regulatory relief, replacement cycles, Set Top Box, Tablets, Video, Video on demand (VOD).

The Roadmap to New Telco 2.0 Business Models

$375Bn per annum Growth or Brutal Retrenchment? Which route will Telcos take?

Over the last three years, the Telco 2.0 Initiative has identified new business model growth opportunities for telcos of $375Bn p.a. in mature markets alone (see the ‘$125Bn Telco 2.0 ‘Two-Sided’ Market Opportunity’ and ‘New Mobile, Fixed and Wholesale Broadband Business Models’ Strategy Reports). In that time, most of the major operators have started to integrate elements of Telco 2.0 thinking into their strategic plans and some have begun to communicate these to investors.

But, as they struggle with the harsh realities of the seismic shift from being predominantly voice-centric to data-centric businesses, telcos now find themselves:

  • Facing rapidly changing consumer behaviours and powerful new types of competitors;
  • Investing heavily in infrastructure, without a clear payback;
  • Operating under less benign regulatory environments, which constrain their actions;
  • Being milked for dividends by shareholders, unable to invest in innovation.

As a result, far from yet realising the innovative growth potential we identified, many telcos around the world seem challenged to make the bold moves needed to make their business models sustainable, leaving them facing retrenchment and potentially ultimately utility status, while other players in the digital economy prosper.

In our new 284 page strategy report – ‘The Roadmap to Telco 2.0 Business Models’ – we describe the transformational path the telecoms industry needs to take to carve out a more valuable role in the evolving ‘digital economy’. Based on the output from 5 intensive senior executive ‘brainstorms’ attended by over 1000 industry leaders, detailed analysis of the needs of ‘upstream’ industries and ‘downstream’ end users markets, and with the input from members and partners of the Telco 2.0 Initiative from across the world, the report specifically describes:

  • A new ‘Telco 2.0 Opportunity Framework’ for planning revenue growth;
  • The critical changes needed to telco innovation processes;
  • The strategic priorities and options for different types of telcos in different markets;
  • Best practice case studies of business model innovation.

The ‘Roadmap’ Report Builds on Telco 2.0’s Original ‘Two-Sided’ Telecoms Business Model

Updated Telco 2.0 Industry Framework

Source: The Roadmap to New Telco 2.0 Business Models

 

Who should read this report

The report is for strategy decision makers and influences across the TMT (Telecoms, Media and Technology) sector. In particular, CxOs, Strategists, Technologists, Marketers, Product Managers, and Legal and Regulatory leaders in telecoms operators, vendors, consultants, and analyst companies. It will also be valuable to those managing or considering medium to long-term investment in the telecoms and adjacent industries, and to regulators and legislators.

It provides fresh, creative ideas to:

Grow revenues beyond current projections by:

  • Protecting revenues from existing customers;
  • Extending services to new customers;
  • Generating new service offering and revenues.

Stay relevant with customers through:

  • A broader range of services and offers;
  • More personalised services;
  • Greater interaction with customers.

Evolve business models by:

  • Moving from a one-sided to a two-sided business model;
  • Generating cross-platform network effects – between service providers and customers;
  • Exploiting existing latent assets, skills and relationships.


The Six Telco 2.0 Opportunity Areas

Six Telco 2.0 Opportunity Types

Source: The Roadmap to New Telco 2.0 Business Models

What are the Key Questions the Report Answers?

For Telcos:

  • Where should your company be investing for growth?
  • What is ‘best practice’ in telecoms Telco 2.0 business model innovation and how does your company compare to it?
  • Which additional strategies should you consider, and which should you avoid?
  • What are the key emerging trends to monitor?
  • What actions are required in the areas of value proposition, technology, value / partner network, and finances?

For Vendors and Partners:

  • How to segment telecoms operators?
  • How well does your offering support Telco 2.0 strategies and transformation needs in your key customers?
  • What are the most attractive new areas in which you could support telcos in business model innovation?

For Investors and Regulators:

  • What are and will be the main new categories of telcos/CSPs?
  • What are the principle opportunity areas for operators?
  • What are and will be operator’s main strategic considerations with respect to new business models?
  • What are the major regulatory considerations of new business models?
  • What are the main advantages and disadvantages that telcos have in each opportunity area?

Contents

  • Executive Summary & Introduction
  • Pressures on Operators
  • The new Telco 2.0 Framework
  • Principles of Innovation and Services Delivery
  • – Strategic Positioning
  • – Design
  • – Development and delivery
  • Categorising telcos
  • Category 1: Leading international operators
  • Category 2: Regional leaders
  • Category 3: Wholesale and business-focused telcos
  • Category 4: Challengers & disruptors
  • Category 5: Smaller national leaders
  • Conclusions and Recommendations