The idea of streaming console-quality games to your phone, with all the fidelity and range on offer, sounds nice! But there’s the obvious caveat: streaming games uses data, and a metric ton of it to boot.
Australians have been mucking around with Project xCloud, Xbox’s streaming service, over the past week. I’ve had about a day or so with it myself, and it’s been a reliable experience albeit one predominately on stable Wi-Fi.
And hey, if that’s all you have access to — a phone and a good Wi-Fi connection — then Project xCloud can work. But if you’re streaming it over the mobile network, then you might want to clear some room in your data cap.
Telstra held a briefing this week for journalists on their Game Optimiser service, a $10 add-on to existing Telstra NBN plans. Similar to Optus’s Game Path, Telstra’s Game Optimiser is built on the DumaOS technology which is already built into some Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming routers.
Game Optimiser at this stage is largely more a reskin of the DumaOS interface to make things simpler for the Telstra customer base — it doesn’t do any optimisations on a game by game basis, and its mostly focused on highlighting the QoS features and bandwidth limiters within the home network.
But since Project xCloud was available to Australians now — and Xbox’s console streaming tech was also shown off at the briefing — I asked whether Telstra had any data on how much the service used per hour. Telstra’s Tristan Wright said the telco had seen xCloud use between 2.5GB to 3.5GB an hour, depending on the game played. I double-checked with Telstra after the briefing to confirm the quote, and they confirmed that was the case.
It’s worth stressing that this isn’t unique to Telstra in any means — Project xCloud is obviously going to chew up a chunk of data whether you’re on Telstra, Optus, Vodafone or any other mobile network. But I figured it was good to get the metrics from Telstra directly rather than doing anecdotal testing. Telstra has been helping publishers trial cloud gaming in Australia for years, using their Innovation and IoT labs in Melbourne, and their 5G testing centre up in the Gold Coast.
Of course, the data usage for xCloud isn’t as onerous if you’re still going through a fixed line broadband with a sizeable download cap. Mobile data plans have expanded over the last few years, but not enough to the point where you could comfortably use xCloud without having to worry about your data usage. (Telstra did explain over email how they expanded their plans earlier this year to accommodate more higher usage applications, but the current caps still mean that one hour of Project xCloud gaming would use between 6 and 8 percent of Telstra’s $55/month small plan cap, and between 3-4 percent of the $65/month plan.)
So for now, a couple of things seem pretty likely. First: if you’re going to be using xCloud on your phone, chances are you’ll be either streaming from within your own network, or using the Wi-Fi on your fixed broadband connection with a much bigger data cap. And if you’re not doing that, then chances are you’ll be gaming in short sessions. (And let’s pour one out for the IT managers among us — you just know people are going to start slamming the work Wi-Fi with xCloud pretty quickly.)
It’ll be interesting to see if Microsoft can optimise things even further on their end too — perhaps supporting games streaming at lower resolutions for less data usage, or maybe tagging certain games that play well at lower resolutions or quality for those on stricter connections. Telstra also stressed after publication that the figures gathered were during xCloud’s test phase, although given the anecodtal data available from the United States (where xCloud has been available for a year) and the usage of other streaming services in Australia, like Netflix, I wouldn’t expect it to change much.
Of course, all of this is separate to the main question around Project xCloud — does it work in Australia?
The answer for that will come in a separate article soon. But it’s worth knowing how much it’ll cost — data wise — if you do want to stream, say, Cricket 19 to your mobile. Which, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to do that?
Correction: The original version of this story said that Project xCloud was shown off during the Telstra briefing, but Telstra stressed that it was only Xbox console streaming — not streaming from the cloud — that was shown as part of the demo.