Telcos Want Companies To Help Cover The Cost Of Data Gamers Use

Telcos Want Companies To Help Cover The Cost Of Data Gamers Use
Image: Steam/Team Striker

COVID got a lot more people into gaming. That’s great for people who want to stay occupied and connected, but it’s not as fun for the ISPs and telcos who have to manage the data gamers use. And with the amount of network spikes every time Call of Duty or Fortnite drops a patch, it’s no surprise that telcos are starting to get a bit irritable.

The latest complaints have come from the head of regulatory and public affairs at Optus, with Andrew Sheridan saying video game companies and Netflix (along with other streaming services) need to contribute to broader investment in internet infrastructure.

“If we get this right it should ultimately be in the long-term interest of Australian consumers and businesses,” Optus’s Sheridan told the Australian Financial Review.

“The current situation is a substantial portion of traffic, particularly at peak period, is actually over-the-top traffic. A lot of it is gaming traffic. The big spikes are when the big gaming updates [arrive] from the likes of … Fortnite, Siege, Grand Theft Auto. If we look forward into the future, we’re going to see growth in traffic as we see proliferation of 8K, augmented reality and virtual reality.”

It’s worth clarifying here — unlike the former NBN Co CEO years ago — that Sheridan is specifically talking about game downloads and updates. Games don’t actually use that much data when you’re actually playing, although the situation is markedly different with titles like Microsoft Flight Simulator, or streaming services like Xbox’s Project xCloud.

And Optus aren’t alone here. Every single one of the 10 biggest days on Telstra’s network coincided with a major patch for Call of Duty or Fortnite, with the biggest day being the launch of COD‘s fifth season on August 5. (Interestingly, the launch of the Xbox Series X — where COD and Fortnite also had updates of their own — was the 7th biggest day for Telstra in 2020, while the PS5 launch didn’t register in the top 10 at all.)

“You might be just using your service for online education, but you are subsidising someone who is a very heavy gamer,” Sheridan added.

The Optus executive didn’t go so far as to propose any kind of firm policy or suggestion. Nikos Katinakis, the head of networks for Telstra, added that over-the-top providers (that’s your Netflix, Amazon Prime etc. of the world) “could do and should do a lot more in participating in the value creation and sharing the wealth that gets created”.

Major publishers of games like Call of Duty and Fortnite would fall under that banner too, and the telcos would surely want Microsoft, Sony and Google (whenever they get Stadia over to Australia) in those discussions too. But neither Optus or Telstra are openly calling for publishers to directly pay for their users here. It’s not even really a shot across the bow, because everyone knows the last 12 months has been such a massive outlier in terms of consumer behaviour.

Still, gaming isn’t going to get any less popular. And if even a decent chunk of the people who discovered gaming in 2020 stick with it, then there’s going to be a permanent shift in usage on our internet infrastructure. So the telcos are really angling for a longer term strategy here to help underwrite the cost of data — and if a solution isn’t found, they’ll find another way to cover their costs. That could involve things like more limits on unlimited data connections, or price hikes on existing connections if things get particularly difficult.

Fortunately, however, game developers have started implementing vastly more efficient compression techniques to reduce the amount of hard drive space — and downloads — games need. Hitman 3‘s recent downsizing is a great example — and if telcos continue to struggle under the weight of big patches, it might be something more developers need to prioritise.

Comments

  • Telco providers and NBN co are going to have a really hard time staying relevant as data providers once Starlink is rolled out and adopted down under.

      • Starlink Australian rollout depends entirely on governmental approval due to competition with NBN, but the potential is huge. There will no longer be a reliance for the billions of dollars of cable infrastructure to bring high speed internet, especially in remote rural areas. The only local infrastructure required is owned by the customer which is a roof mounted dish, a data cable and a modem.

        From what I understand Starlink is in beta phase and most users get an average Mbps higher than my typical speeds on TPG 100 in South west Sydney. Looking forward to seeing how the final product compares.

        • During a beta phase thats entirely possible, but spectrum is finite, and latency penalty whilst lower than traditional satellite, is still quite high.

          Doubt it’ll be a game changer in Aus, especially once Musk has to start upkeep on a global network.

    • Hadn’t heard of Starlink, looks pretty cool.

      Although latency is 25x more than current NBN so probably wouldn’t replace it for home-based usage?

      • the majority of home use cases wont be impacted dramatically by a huge jump in latency. mostly gaming and teleconferencing will be impacted. but given the increase of work from home over the past year, which i doubt will ever go back fully to the extent it was pre covid, that increase in latency could be a big problem depending on how bad it is.
        its a definite no for gamers though. <15ms or go home.

      • Depends what your doing. If you don’t play twitch shooters provably wouldn’t make too much of a difference in your life. Keep in mind that as the tech evolves it the satellites will be replaced.

        • I dunno. There’s a lot of investment in shifting towards cloud gaming, which is going to require really good latency. We got two different technologies here pulling in opposite directions.

  • IMO If I’m paying for 1TB of data per month. Then that is what I’m paying for, because that is the service you offered me. I can download whatever data I please over a month up to 1TB.

    They should just be smarter about their internal practices and cache data for games like they do for Netflix and other streaming services if they are trying to lower cost.

    • The issue isn’t the amount of data being downloaded per se but rather the impact on bandwidth when these big downloads are all happening at the same time.

      You can’t really cache data for patches and I can tell you now the impact of patches or updates (like the ones for CoD) are huge on the network.

        • Heh. I remember that. Gamearena did a lot of really good work in those days with going out of their way to host updated patches of the popular games.

          That said, for it to work these days, it’d probably mean maintaining relationships with a shit-tonne of publishers/developers, chasing whatever the new hotness is. And I doubt anyone ever does anything without asking, “What’s in it for us?” and expecting a kickback. When Gamearena was a legit point of difference, that meant sales. Now? What does it do for the ISP?

          It’s a good question; I’d like to see some of the potential hurdles examined and explained.

    • Also – a lot of us customers (myself included) don’t have data limits, and haven’t done for a looooooong time. Westnet/iinet ditched that a long time ago….I have no idea what my data usage would be these days with the constant streaming happening in my house, but it wouldn’t be pretty……

      • Just had a look, and it’s been a very long time since it was less than 1tb in a month – that’s a family of 2 adults and 3 kids, with heavy youtube/netflix/steam/xbox etc usage, not actually as much as I thought it would be.

  • God damn Telcos, want all the money for providing a service but none of the responsibility for maintaining said service.

    It’s like a toll road company asking car manufactures to pay for their roads because on certain event days the usual peak hour traffic is worse….

  • What happened to when telcos worked with content providers like Steam, Netflix, Microsoft, Amazon, etc to have caching servers so that they didn’t have to transfer multiple copies of the same data from other networks? It does work out much cheaper to run a few servers loaded up with storage than to transfer terabytes of data from overseas.
    If I remember right, back when we had data caps and ADSL#, depending on your provider, downloads from services like Steam and Netflix didn’t even count towards your quota because of the caching services.

    • I wonder how much of that caching was done without the involvement of the upstream services? If Microsoft or Valve are sending the updates via unencrypted HTTP, it is pretty easy for an ISP to transparently proxy those requests and serve them from a local cache. Provided the update files are encrypted and signed, then it shouldn’t matter where they are sent from.

      If these services move to distributing updates via HTTPS though, the ISP can’t transparently intercept the connection, since it would be detected as a man-in-the-middle attack. The update service would need to be changed to allow the ISP to cache the data.

  • There could be smarter ways for companies to roll out their updates, releasing them outside peak times, like 1am Monday, optimising them so that they aren’t such a ridiculous size, or some sort of staggered rollout where you can keep playing against players of the current build while waiting for the update.

    But at the end of the day, we pay telcos for X amount of data at Y speeds, they need to figure out their pricing accordingly so that they can continue to provide the service we’re paying for.

  • I have a FTTH provided by Opticomm, with Exetel as my current service provider (iiNet before that and Telstra before that)… I peak at 3.5MB/s download speed while paying for 25MB/s…

    Somehow don’t think this’ll help me

    • Check the fine print, especially the units, you’re probably paying for 25mbps, which converts to 3.125MB/s, so you’re actually getting slightly quicker internet than what you’re paying for.

  • the biggest issue is a lot of games are poorly packaged with not much thought in to the patching process. look through the files of many big games and youll find a series of 5-15gb pak files containing everything needed for a specific level or part of a game. a lot of times there will be duplicate files in multiple of these paks if the same textures etc are used in multiple areas. then when it comes patching time a lot of devs take the lazy approach and say… oh we changed 2mb of data in this 15gb file, heres the new 15gb file to replace the old one, leading to massive amounts of wasted bandwidth, rather than coding the patcher to just write the changed data to the existing file.
    some games are correcting this, i believe fortnite being one of them hence the huge reduction in install size and smaller patches. but its certainly not a new concept. i recall the patches for simcity 4 back in 2003 or whenever it was just wrote the changed data.
    then theres games like ut99 / ut2004 that had a much smarter (imo) method of storing the files, each type of file (music, sound, texture, map) in its own folder, the map then references the existing files it needs and only packages the new content in its own file. im sure theres some technical reason developers moved on from that method, maybe easier revision control on lesser but larger files.
    what this all comes down to is now that computer hardware can read and store huge amounts of data with little impact to performance, and internet speeds have increased to the point downloading 100gb is no longer a 2 week long process, developers have become lazy. and now its time for them to reverse course to a more reasonable middle ground.
    i dont think it is unreasonable for the telcos to want this.

    • I think they’ve fixed it now but I remember Ark used to be a big offender of that too. Minor updates/fixes weren’t too bad but you had to re-download the entire game for every major update.

  • Talk about more bullshit with execs wanting to pay less to provide a service that some of them can barely provide as it is when it isn’t even a peak time.

    And those who pull shit like, “Some of our customers are subsidising for teh gamerz!” to get people on their side is some especially scummy shit.

    Remember folks, the NBN is totally future proof and wasn’t at all an absolute fucking shambles before it was even built.

  • And the number one issue, as it has been the entire time I’ve had internet access, is companies going for over-pricing so they can farm what should be a standard service. (and the standard service access should be increasing as they upgrade the network, ie standard 100/40. should now be 1000/*)

  • Way to completely blow a business opportunity to being an Oceanic hosting service for game and digital store fronts.

    A lot of these game and streaming companies find it really challenging to get local services running, and maintaining quality speed and connections. Due to both are mixed technology network and the cost/reliability of hosting services.

    If you don’t like it Optus, and they also have problems, create the solution that works for both you and profit.

    Bitch about them publicly is a not great way to impress…

  • I’ll call it now, 5 years from now Telecom’s will start to split up our internet into sections and phase in a “gamers” package that is required in order to play online games. Splitting internet usage into pay for peices Rupert Murdoch style.

    I am more than happy to be wrong but I can see it happening

  • To be honest I’ve never noticed a problem with my internet service on release dates.

    I also work in a position where if users are having a problem caused by game releases and updates, the trend would become apparent to me/my workplace.

    I think this Optus honcho is looking for fire where one does not exist.

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