Google Stadia and online gaming over satellite

The upcoming platform from Google will swap the console for a YouTube-driven gaming experience


Google’s recently announced gaming service, Stadia, promises the ability to play all kinds of games online without the need for a gaming console. The Netflix-style gaming service is expected to be available sometime this year — although an exact release date has yet to be announced.

The way it works is that, instead of having a powerful console like an X-Box or PS-4 doing the heavy lifting processor-wise, Google does it on the other end of an internet connection using its own data centers. Games are then served over YouTube, allowing a player to use any screen — phone, tablet, PC — to play.

Gaming online typically requires high-speed internet, and Google recommends having at least 25 Mbps download speeds for Stadia. Viasat offers that speed in most areas of the country, but there are a few other elements to Stadia that could present challenges for most internet service providers.

One of these is the sheer volume of data Stadia will stream. This will vary by game, but Google is promoting resolution quality up to 4K, which means a large amount of data going upstream and downstream. Streaming video only uses the downstream connection, so Stadia (and any other such services, such as Twitch) will put further demands on networks.

There’s also an issue with latency, which refers to the time it takes for a signal to get from, in this case, Google’s data center to your screen. Online gaming, especially “fast-twitch” games like sports or shooter titles, can be particularly sensitive to latency. Because Viasat’s service comes from satellites in high earth orbit, there’s greater latency than terrestrial internet service providers have.

“The processing for Stadia games will be happening in the cloud, so latency would be a factor,” said Girish Chandran, Viasat’s Chief Technology Officer. “There are a great many other types of strategy and turn-based games, like Civilization or Starcraft or Warhammer or chess, that aren’t affected at all.”

Chandran said Google is initially targeting sophisticated gamers who are likely well aware of their latency requirements. He said wireless mobile and DSL services may also find handling a high bandwidth service like Stadia to be a challenge.

But, he added, Google is also likely targeting people who just enjoying watching these high-end gamers playing over YouTube. Watching e-sports is the second most popular game viewing with 84 million viewers, more popular than MLB, NBA or NHL.

“That would be a fair amount of data as well, but the latency isn’t an issue with that kind of experience,” Chandran said.

Those users with data limitations might have to watch their usage the same way they would with streaming any other content.