Phil Harrison, vice president and general manager of Google, has indicated that he doesn’t believe data caps represent a major challenge to Stadia, the company’s upcoming video game streaming service. In an interview, Harrison was asked by GameSpot how much of a limiting factor he sees data caps as. “Data caps [are] not a universal challenge,” he replied, going on to say he believes that ISPs will react to demand in order to fulfill the needs of their customers.
“The ISPs have a strong history of staying ahead of consumer trend and if you look at the history of data caps in those small number of markets–and it’s actually a relatively small number of markets that have [data caps]–the trend over time, when music streaming and download became popular, especially in the early days when it was not necessarily legitimate, data caps moved up. Then with the evolution of TV and film streaming, data caps moved up, and we expect that will continue to be the case.”
Placing faith in ISPs to respond to the demands of a streaming service like Stadia, which sends 1080p or 4K video feeds to players, depending on the package they’re subscribed to, presents further questions. The first being, would the adoption of Stadia be widespread enough to signal a trend that ISPs need to respond to, in the same way that music, TV, and movie streaming did.
Harrison stuck to his guns when presented with this concern, saying he believes “ISPs are smart [and] they understand that they’re in the business of keeping customers happy and keeping customers with them for a long time.”
On the suggestion that ISPs may instead see this as an opportunity to attach further costs to having more data, which in turn would become a greater expense on the user, Harrison noted that 5G technology would be one part of the solution.
“There’s a very interesting additional dynamic happening in the internet market, which is the evolution of 5G, particularly in what’s called fixed wireless, which is not necessarily running 5G on your phone but as a way of bringing 5G into your home. All of the 5G fixed wireless businesses that are up now that I’m aware of have no data caps and are very very high performance, so that’s introducing a competitive dynamic. $50 a month. That’s what Verizon fixed wireless costs is for minimum 300mb/s and up to a gigabit. It’s pretty good value to me.”
Harrison also noted that many of the calculations that are being used to illustrate how quickly streaming at high resolution can burn through an allotment of data aren’t necessarily correct.
“I’ve seen the math calculations that people have done. If you take 35mb/s, it’s not always 35mb/s because we use compression. There will be sometimes when actually it’s using significantly less data than that, so it’s not correct to multiply 35 mbp/s by the number of seconds that you play.”
Harrison is are aware that Stadia is nevertheless a demanding service and, as a result, it will “give players information about what they’re using and how they can change their resolution if they want to.”
Early adopters will get access to Google Stadia in November 2019 with the Founder’s Edition, which is available for pre-order right now, directly from Google. Everyone else will have to wait until the Base version launches in 2020. When the Base version launches, it will be available as a free option, but people will be able to buy a Stadia controller and then purchase games a la carte to stream from anywhere without any additional fees. For access to streaming at 4K, a growing library of games, and discounts on purchasing them, players will need to pay a monthly fee for Stadia Pro.
Prior to E3, Google held an event revealing key information about Stadia, including details on the subscription service, launch plans, and the games that will be available on the service. You can read all about that in our Google Stadia news roundup.