Launch of Three New Streaming Services Represents Threat and Opportunity to Broadband Operators

John Byrne – Service Director, Global Technology Telecom and Software

Summary Bullets:

  • Apple, Disney, and Google are all introducing new streaming services in November that are likely to create new levels of network performance challenges for broadband operators due to their use of 4K video and, in the case of Google Stadia, new uplink requirements.
  • Broadband operators should be able to monetize this new network usage in the form of upselling to higher-volume data plans. However, to do so, they will also need to invest in new network technologies to ensure they can stay ahead of demand.

Network operators are bracing for the introduction of a trio of high-profile, well-funded streaming services in November.  The new services are likely to introduce new challenges to network operators already struggling to keep up with growing demand for streaming video services.  This may provide a strong upsell opportunity for network operators, but it may also require a new wave of network investment for operators to stay ahead of the demand curve.

First up is Apple TV+, which launched service in 100 countries on November 1.  For $5 per month, Apple will offer nine new ‘original content’ series, with another five shows coming soon.  Then, a bigger splash will come as Disney+ launches service on November 12.  The new Disney service, available for $6.99, will feature 25 series and 10 films from Disney in its first year, as well as access to content from Walt Disney Studios, Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar, and National Geographic.

Perhaps the most intriguing, vexing challenge and biggest wildcard for network operators will come with the launch of online gaming service Google Stadia on November 19.  Stadia will launch in 14 countries, initially offering 30+ games from 20+ publishers.  Unlike other streaming entertainment services, including Apple TV+, Disney+, and other well-established brands like Netflix and Hulu, Stadia will initially be sold more like a game console: customers will need to buy a $130 hardware kit with three months of premium service that will include access to a handful of online games.  However, customers will still be expected to purchase the most popular games individually.  The initial cost is likely to limit Stadia’s initial appeal to a core group of hardcore gamers; however, over time, it is likely that Stadia will become more appealing as it expands the number of games available as part of its monthly service.

From a network perspective, all three new services are concerning for several reasons.  First, they are all being offered in 4K video, which creates an exponential increase in network traffic compared to ‘just HD.’  Many streaming services recommend a minimum of 15 MB of bandwidth to support 4K video, and considering the requirements of multiple users inside the average home, many households may find their bandwidth challenged as never before.

Stadia adds a new challenge: unlike streaming video, which only requires a fast ‘downlink,’ online gaming requires high speeds both from the network to the user and on the ‘uplink’ from the user back to the network.  As a result, Google recommends 35 Mbps of bandwidth to create the optimal experience for its Stadia service.  The other major challenge is latency; while video streamers will tolerate a short buffering delay, in multi-player online gaming scenarios, extra milliseconds of latency could mean the difference between success and failure.  Hardcore gamers are likely to have a low tolerance level for networks that aren’t up to the task.

All of this spells potential upsell opportunity for broadband operators, who should be able to upsell customers to higher-volume plans to support more and more 4K content.  But, it will also require new levels of investment behind the scenes – primarily in optical fiber infrastructure, but to a lesser extent in copper and even fixed wireless – to make sure they can deliver all those bigger pipes to their bandwidth-hungry customers.

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