Opinion: operators must act now to keep up with online gaming growth

By Ciena's Mervyn Kelly

According to the UK National Gamer’s Survey 2011, the nation’s estimated active gamer population stands at more than 31 million, with a combined total of 43 million hours being spent on games each and every day.

With the large majority of gamers now having open access to online game play, the demands being placed on the underlying network infrastructure are becoming increasingly significant.

Operators must do their utmost to ensure that such demands are quickly addressed, or else risk damaging both service quality and end user trust. In particular, they must evolve their services in order to deal with an excessive volume of users from a wide range of devices, including computer consoles, hand held devices and online accessories.

Activision’s Call of Duty game, for example, single-handedly attracts tens of millions of active online players to its network and stands as just one of a number of games that has succeeded in revolutionising the online gaming industry .

However, the game’s combination of rich content and excessive volume of users has created huge bandwidth demands.

With online gaming trends continuing to evolve, this is by no means an isolated case, as will be demonstrated early next year with the launch of the Sony Playstation Vita. This hand held device is expected to offer more content than any other currently on the market and with the multitude of games becoming available for download via the internet, network capacity demands will undoubtedly be pushed to the limit.

Furthermore, current trends suggest that online gaming is now moving away from the traditional console-based model to the online environment, a moment that was marked last month with the UK launch of OnLive, the cloud-based video game service.

Online gaming has therefore reached unprecedented levels of demand, escalating the pressure on the underlying network infrastructure.

While new releases promise to deliver an increasingly better gaming experience, this invariably means larger volumes of data travelling between a gamer’s console or laptop and the game manufacturer’s servers.

As a result, network latency is becoming an increasingly important issue that requires successful management. Games that test a player’s reaction time – such as first-person shooters or sporting platforms – fundamentally rely on low network latency in order to provide customer satisfaction.

Some gamers are also becoming aware of network latency performance which can give them a competitive advantage in online multiplayer games, a criterion that is becoming increasingly important when they select their service provider.

Data flows must be successfully managed by operators in order to guarantee the quality of experience that end users expect and, in order to do so, certain types of latency-sensitive traffic must be prioritised above others.

Data transfer levels generated through online gaming are certainly of huge significance today, yet the advent of future technologies and next generation platforms will undoubtedly push capacity demands even further in the near future.

So what action must operators take to stay ahead of the game?

A future-proof network is essential and needs the ability to differentiate between high and low priority traffic and adjust dynamically, on-demand and in real time, according to changes in capacity demand.

Traditional network infrastructures based on SDH may be robust and reliable but they fail to support the ever-changing demands of today. In the face of the sharp rise in data traffic, flexible, economic and more efficient networks are essential.

A future-proof network will allow service providers to shorten their time-to-market and, as a result, will be enable them to quickly deliver on the promise of online gaming.

With over €4.2 billion being spent on computer games in the UK alone, the gaming industry is showing no sign of decline. With the next generation of consoles due to be released in the near future, combined with the rise of cloud-based games services, the popularity of online gaming will only continue to grow.

Now is the time for network operators to begin investing in future-proof, scalable networks in order to cope with this imminent surge in demand.

 

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