As the Sony's Sony's Playstation 4 launched midnight today in the UK, there are some potential pitfalls that mean consumers might not get the most out of their systems unless they carefully consider their home network.
Consoles used to be the easy option. They were plug and play devices that worked straight out of the box. But with both the Xbox One and the PS4, the manufacturers are hammering home cloud services and fiercely internet reliant features, such as content sharing and, in Sony’s case, the ability to play games as they download. Much of the UK and Europe has had the necessary infrastructure investment to support these features running as smoothly as possible, but consumers will be forced to think about their choice of internet service provider (ISP) to get the full experience.
Telecommunications supplier Ciena’s Mervyn Kelly tells Forbes that the average household is now sliding into domestic data usage patterns that mark them as ‘power users’, in what IDC defines as using advanced multimedia services like over-the-top video regularly, without realizing it. “Accommodating this growth will require greater capacity to avoid damaging both service quality and the trust of end users,” Kelly says. “Broadband providers must ensure that existing and future networks are smarter than ever before, providing scalability needed to deal with data hungry devices like the Xbox One, PS4, and advanced smartphones.”
The ISPs themselves are in a tricky position. We’re largely paying the same amount of money now as we were 10 years ago. Broadband is no longer a luxury but a necessity. ISPs have little choice but to offer packages that can cope with heavy data demands at affordable rates. ”The industry as a whole is struggling to keep up with the rate of change,” says Michael Philpott, an analyst at Ovum. “Especially when they want to deliver their own applications and services. None of these services, whether new consoles, Netflix Netflix, or from Apple Apple or Google Google, are really delivering revenue, they’re all provided by internet-type or device-type players. ISPs turn around and say ‘we’re investing in these networks, we’ve got to make money, we’ve got to charge for it.’”
Philpott asks how long investment can continue if ISPs are not able to recoup the investment made, especially as the rate of traffic is only set to increase. ”It’s not that they won’t make revenue, but their profits will start to get squeezed, and that’s the danger in the longer term,” Philpott says. “How do they deal with that, how do they monetize those networks? On the other hand, the danger from a consumer point of view is if the ISPs slow down investment because they are monetizing successfully, the networks could get clogged, and we’ll have a bigger problem than what we have today.”
ThinkBroadband.com’s Andrew Ferguson, meanwhile, suggests any ISPs still maintaining strict usage limits risk shooting themselves in the foot. ISP customers didn’t used to worry about upload speeds, but both the Xbox One and Playstation 4 are aiming for an integrated, social experience, and this includes being able to record and upload clips from your gaming sessions. This kind of feature will not tolerate subpar connections. ”The big change is content sharing,” Ferguson says. “The ability for people to upload video clips – it used to be, if you had a digital camera you could upload them to YouTube, but it was tricky. But with the Xbox One and PS4, you press a button and there you go. Now upload speed is important.
According to Axel Pawlik, managing director at RIPE NCC, a Regional Internet Registry, ISPs could be doing more. ”The launch of the PS4 and Xbox One are another reminder that ISPs are not doing enough to guarantee people get the most out of the internet, by dragging their feet over the deployment of IPv6,” Pawlik says, referring to a next-generation protocol aimed at making the Internet more efficient and usable by more devices. “Microsoft has actively called on people to lobby their ISPs and demand IPv6. This is because the technology being used with the Xbox One will only deliver a next generation experience if it’s able to communicate directly with other devices on the internet.”
“It’s likely that anyone using the new consoles will encounter issues if their ISPs try solutions such as Carrier Grade NAT, which is essentially asking a group of people to share the same IP address,” Pawlik says. “A lot of internet usage is based on everyone having a unique identifier, the IP address. CG NAT means online gaming with some systems simply won’t be possible for anyone who is unlucky enough to have an ISP using it.
“It doesn’t need to be so complicated. All ISPs could start deploying IPv6, which is the future of the internet anyway. The growth of IPv6 is inevitable, there’s no other way for the internet to continue expanding, so it makes very little sense for ISPs to experiment with short term fixes.”
Short term answers, Pawlik believes, are equivalent to pushing a Ferrari instead of driving it.
Jeff Brainard, director of market development at Blue Coat, crunched the numbers during and after the lead up to the US PS4 launch.
“We compared the traffic in the 72 hours leading up to the morning of November 15th against the 72 hours after the launch, and traffic from the PlayStation website almost quadrupled during this period,” Brainard says. “As gaming platforms increasingly move to digital downloads, as well as software updates and patches, it will be wise for internet access providers to look at techniques like caching to optimize their networks for this new generation of gaming, so they can not only manage their network costs, but also provide the best possible user experience.”
So, what can consumers do? ThinkBroadband’s Ferguson recommends considering fibre based products. Despite the premium pricing, they are a “worthwhile upgrade” from standard ADSL or ADSL2+, considering just how many cloud based features the new consoles promise.
Customers can also cut out excess signal noise by connecting their consoles to a router using an Ethernet cable. “When using Wi-Fi, your speeds may vary a lot based on what others are doing in the area,” Ferguson says, “which can often look like the ISP is trying to slow you down, and can also cause jitter, making online gaming frustrating.”
In the infancy of the next gen consoles, one thing looks to be for certain: unlike previous generations, the burden is thoroughly on the end user to ensure they do their research and buy the package most suited to them.