In order to evolve with the times, Microsoft needs to untether its Xbox games from stationary consoles so that its customers can play games on their mobile wireless devices. Microsoft has developed game streaming technology that it calls Project xCloud. And the cloud giant will conduct a preview of Project xCloud in October in the United States, United Kingdom and Korea.
It has chosen the following wireless network partners for the game streaming preview: T-Mobile in the U.S., Vodafone in the U.K., and SK Telekom in South Korea. Microsoft says these are technical partnerships, but gamers across all carriers are eligible to participate in the preview.
Starting in October, Microsoft will invite a limited number of players into the Project xCloud public preview to stream a select number of Xbox titles over Android smartphones and tablets. The company will support more titles and devices over time. Its aim is to optimize mobile streaming of its games over mobile and Wi-Fi networks. Microsoft boasts that it will combine its nearly 40 years of gaming experience with resources from its Azure public cloud.
“Mobile networks are an important part of global connectivity today, so we’ll do our best to ensure that gamers have a great experience and Project xCloud is optimized for the widest range of network configurations possible,” said Kareem Choudhry, corporate VP for Project xCloud.
But can current wireless networks handle the speed and latency requirements of gaming?
“From what Microsoft has said about Project xCloud so far, we know that the service runs from Azure data centers, requires a download throughput of 10 Mbps or greater, and requires an Android device running 6.0 or greater to work,” said Chris Mills, head of industry analysis with Tutela, in an email to FierceWireless.
Tutela runs tens of thousands of download throughput tests against the Azure content delivery network in the U.S. every day. It took a look to see what proportion of T-Mobile LTE connections met that 10 Mbps requirement. “Our data shows that 53.9% of download throughput tests on T-Mobile's network hit that 10 Mbps threshold, demonstrating that although cloud gaming is very feasible over an LTE connection in 2019, there's still room for improvement,” wrote Mills.
Tutela’s samples were taken from T-Mobile/Metro by T-Mobile customers using Android devices, from July 1, 2019 to September 23, 2019. Data includes over 290,000 download throughput tests, using a 5MB test sample downloaded from the Azure network.
“The partnership of T-Mobile and Microsoft to actually deliver console-quality gaming over a mobile connection also shows how mobile experience metrics need to evolve,” added Mills. “Real-time applications like cloud gaming -- not to mention emerging use-cases like VR and AR -- will need a connection with low latency and high stability, in addition to a fast throughput.
Mobile gaming with 5G
For its trial, Microsoft is taking a phased approach, starting with a small number of participants to get initial feedback, then opening it up to more gamers. Participants will be able to access content via the new Microsoft Game Streaming app, available in the coming weeks for Android devices.
Sprint executives have said they expect gaming to be one of the first big consumer use cases for 5G. In August, during its announcement about turning on four more 5G cities, Sprint also highlighted its partnership with cloud gaming company Hatch to offer a game-streaming experience.
Google was the first big public cloud provider to get a jump on mobile game streaming. In March it unveiled its new cloud-based gaming platform Stadia, which it plans to commercially launch in November. Users will be able to stream Stadia on a variety of connected devices, such as tablets, laptops and TVs, without needing a special game console. They can play the game with either existing controllers or Google’s own Stadia controller.
“Google said you would need 25 Mbps on the connection for Stadia stability,” said industry analyst Iain Gillott, president of iGR, in an earlier interview. “If you’re going to do that on LTE today, most connections will have a problem with that. Depending on what you’re trying to do, you’ll also need low latency, and that could be a problem.”