Google detailed the plans for its Stadia game-streaming service yesterday. For $9.99 per month (plus the cost of games), you can stream games in 4K from Google’s servers. Here’s the harsh reality: 1 TB ISP data caps are widespread.
Here’s How Fast Stadia Will Hit Your Data Cap
According to Google, Stadia’s 4K quality stream uses 15.75 GB per hour. But, as Jarred Walton points out over at PC Gamer, that means Stadia will blast through 1 TB of data in 65 hours. That’s 16 hours of 4K gaming per week.
Let’s set aside 4K. 1080p quality requires 9 GB per hour; that’s 111 hours of Stadia streaming for 1 TB of data. With 1080p, you can play 28 hours per week.
This sounds like a pretty solid amount of gaming, but remember, you’re probably doing other things with your Internet connection!
Assuming you currently use 500 GB per month for web browsing, streaming 4K videos, and other internet activity, you only have 32.5 hours of 4K streaming or 55.5 hours of 1080p. That’s 8 hours of 4K gaming per week or 14 hours of 1080p gaming.
Beyond the 35 Mbps internet connection required for 4K, you’ll need a lot of bandwidth.
Get Ready for Extra Data Usage Fees
At $10 per month, Stadia doesn’t seem like a bad deal—after all, on top of the cost of a console, Microsoft’s Xbox Live Gold and Sony’s PlayStation Plus cost $5 per month if you pay yearly.
But data caps will cause serious problems for Google—or, more likely, for eager Stadia customers who quickly get hit with big overage fees.
For example, the vast majority of Comcast home internet connections have a 1 TB data cap or “Terabyte Internet Data Usage Plan,” as Comcast calls it. That’s true whether you have the cheapest speed tier or you’re paying extra for gigabit internet.
Comcast charges extra for additional data, automatically billing you an extra $10 for each additional 50 GB of data you use. However, Comcast is very nice about the whole thing:
Your charges, however, will not exceed $200 each month, no matter how much you use. And, we’re offering you two courtesy months, so you will not be billed the first two times you exceed a terabyte. This data plan is based on a principle of fairness.
Gee, thanks Comcast.
Things aren’t quite as bad as they look from that quote: You can pay an extra $50 a month for unlimited data with Comcast, but that makes Stadia even more expensive.
How Widespread Are Data Caps?
Comcast is far from the only internet service provider with a data cap. Broadband Now has a list of US ISPs with data caps. The list includes some smaller ISPs but also some bigger ones—AT&T Internet, CenturyLink, Cox Communications, and XFINITY from Comcast. All restrict subscribers to 1 TB—mostly, some ISPs offer uncapped internet connections in some regions.
This isn’t a US-only problem, either. Google is initially launching Stadia in 14 countries: the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland.
In Canada, for example, data caps are often worse than in the US. While Comcast at least offers 1 TB with its less expensive internet connections, large Canadian ISP Telus offers internet connections with data allowances ranging from 200 GB to 1 TB. Like Comcast, Telus charges $10 for each extra 50 GB. Unlike Comcast, it caps out at $45 per month extra instead of $200.
Thankfully, other countries don’t have it as bad as Canada, a country Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings once described as “[having] the misfortune of being the country with the lowest internet caps…in all of the Netflix world.”
Home internet data caps don’t seem as widespread in Stadia’s other launch countries. While Google’s home base is here in North America, Stadia is likely a better fit for Europe than the US and Canada right now.
Down With Data Caps
This isn’t an indictment of Stadia. Stadia is a cool service and, whether or not you plan on using it, it’s impressive that we can stream games in 4K like this over the internet with only minimal latency.
Instead, it’s yet another indication that these data caps are bad and need to be removed—or, at the very least, raised. In a world of 4K video streaming services and Wi-Fi security cameras that can use over 400 GB of data per month—per camera!—these data caps are holding technology back.
Everything online is getting bigger except your ISP’s data cap. Add Google’s Stadia and future game-streaming services like Microsoft’s xCloud to the list. Something will have to give—and hopefully it’s the data caps.