Google revealed more information about its Stadia service this week, including the expected bandwidth required for the service to work properly. If you want to stream games in 4K, you’d better either have a no-cap ISP or do relatively little gaming on a household basis.
According to Google, Stadia will require a 35Mbps connection to maintain a steady 4K service. That’s 1.4x more bandwidth than Netflix, which requires a 25Mbps connection for 4K. In per-MB terms, a 35Mbps connection will eat 15.75GB per hour. If you have a 1TB connection, that’s about 65 hours of gaming per month — if gaming is all you do. Of course, gaming isn’t all most people do, which is where the actual problem lies.
Issues like this are fundamental barriers to projects like Stadia. If you’re a single adult living alone, a 1TB bandwidth cap is probably fine. If you have multiple high-bandwidth users in a household, you can easily start hitting limits with applications like this. If four people watch an average of one hour of 4K Netflix per day (an average of 15 minutes of TV per person), that’s 337.5GB of data consumed per month. The amount of bandwidth available for Stadia shrinks to the equivalent of 1.4 hours of gaming per day across four people, or about 21 minutes per person. Granted, there are plenty of families where not everyone games — but the math illustrates how quickly modern bandwidth slips away if you want to stream at high resolution.
If you work in 1080p, of course, you have a little extra breathing room. 1080p60 eats just 20Mbps, while 720p60 uses just 10Mbps. For many users, these sorts of transfer rates will be an acceptable compromise. But it’s always worth noting that the bandwidth caps these companies impose bear little to no resemblance to the actual cost of delivering service. While it’s difficult to get pricing data on actual per-GB costs (because companies fight tooth and nail to keep such information secret), estimates from 2010 suggested the high-end all-in cost for Canadian ISPs to construct an entirely new network, came in around 8 cents per GB:
When combined with the Internet costs of roughly one cent per GB for larger ISPs, a high end estimate of the per gigabyte costs for large Canadian ISPs is approximately 8 cents per GB. This assumes the creation of a new network and accounts for all aspects of the data transfer [for] the last mile, internal ISP network, public Internet transfers, and other associated expenditures. While this is higher than the 3 cents per GB that has been invoked in some discussions, it is far lower than overage costs imposed by some ISPs, which run as high as $ 10 per GB in Canada.
This data is from 2010-2011. Costs can be assumed to have declined even further since then. The data caps consumers often live under have risen in recent years, but not by an amount nearly equivalent to the long-term decline in price.
As a result, there’s a significant disconnect between the actual price for service, the level of quality technically available on modern streaming services, and the ability of some US customers to actually use the services they pay for without paying additional broadband overage fees. If your ISP imposes a broadband cap, we recommend taking a careful look at your own monthly usage before and after subscribing to Stadia, particularly before you use the highest-end 4K streaming option. Most ISPs with data caps charge $ 10 for an additional 50GB of data. Using Stadia at 4K, you can burn through 50GB of data in a little over three hours. A few marathon gaming sessions in a beloved title could quickly turn into an expensive proposition for any household.