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Rise of Cloud Gaming – Meeting the Challenges for ISPs

Matt Schmitt
Principal Architect

Aug 26, 2020

Spinning iconLight Reading recently posted an article titled "Operators need to prepare for the game-streaming tsunami" which talks about a new wave of game streaming services (aka cloud gaming services) that are on the way. The article points out that the network demands these services require are completely different from anything cable operators have had to deal with before: cable operators cannot simply assume the work that was done previously in order to better support video streaming will be sufficient to effectively support game streaming. They warn that ISPs should get ahead of the network demands of the new game streaming services or replay the pain of the past. We are all familiar with the exasperation of watching the spinning loading “ball” in the middle of our favorite movie scene; imagine the frustration when things suddenly lock up or lag in the middle of an intense game.

Here at CableLabs, we agree with Light Reading’s assessment of the importance of readying operator networks for the impact of game streaming services. Although cloud gaming is still in its early adoption phase, Sandvine’s May 2020 Phenomena Report shows NVidia’s GeForce Now game streaming service in the top 10 gaming traffic generators.

The good news is that CableLabs has been building and testing latency and congestion management solutions for some time, including one that is well-tailored to game streaming. The suite of features developed by CableLabs and our industry partners, known as Low Latency DOCSIS® (LLD), can provide better customer experiences for both current multiplayer online gaming and emerging cloud gaming performance services.

An early observation of the low latency team at CableLabs was that different applications have different traffic patterns and needs, which ultimately require different solutions for reducing and managing latency. This is true even between seemingly related applications like online gaming and game streaming:

  • Multiplayer online gaming uses very low data rates (~150kbps) but can be very sensitive to latency and jitter (variations in latency).
  • Game Streaming – running the game on a remote server and streaming it to an end device – is also very sensitive to latency and jitter, but also requires high data rates on the order of tens of megabits per second, and cannot be buffered since it’s played in real-time.

Latency for online gaming comes not from a lack of capacity – since the data rates are very low – but rather from gaming traffic getting caught behind other types of traffic that aren’t latency sensitive. Therefore, LLD employs tools to keep that gaming traffic from getting stuck without impacting other traffic negatively.

Game streaming, because of the high data rates involved, requires the addition of something more:  the ability to be able to sense and adapt to changing capacity along the network path at any bottleneck. This is why support for Low Latency, Low Loss, Scalable Throughput (L4S) is a part of LLD technology. L4S technology builds on the mechanisms developed for online gaming by enabling the network to provide precise feedback to applications about impending congestion. If implemented by an application at both ends of a network connection as well as any bottleneck points in between, it permits the application to send at high data rates while maintaining consistent low latency.

Therefore, by deploying DOCSIS equipment that supports the LLD feature set – including L4S support – cable operators will be able to provide the very best game streaming experience as soon as those services incorporate L4S support.

While gamers will be thrilled with this, LLD technology doesn't just apply to gaming: when implemented by application developers, it will also enable improved service for work-from-home applications like video conferencing, making DOCSIS based cable systems the platform of choice for these demanding applications. That’s why latency is one of the pillars of the cable industry’s 10G Platform.

Even better, availability of DOCSIS equipment that supports LLD is just around the corner. CableLabs has been actively working jointly with equipment suppliers to bring these features to market as soon as possible via software updates to their existing DOCSIS 3.1 equipment. We’ve seen support for these features rapidly evolve, and we will continue to support the industry in getting these features deployed in live networks. We’re always interested in working with more partners on testing and validation of these emerging technologies and applications, so please reach out to us here at CableLabs if you’d like to get involved or learn more.

There is a tsunami coming, but with preparation, it will be a tsunami of awesome.

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