I don’t want this to be a long post, so I’m going to try and keep it short. But in amongst all the stuff to come tumbling out of events pre and during this year’s E3, especially in regards to the Xbox One, I just feel like companies behind hardware and software for entertainment products are unaware of global access to efficient and fast internet infrastructure, and certainly unaware of the UK situation.
With Don Mattrick declaring, “Fortunately we have a product for people who aren’t able to get some form of connectivity; it’s called Xbox 360,” I feel that he’s completely missing the qualms people have with the Xbox One and its connectivity demands. It’s a device that will need to connect to the internet once during a twenty four hour period and there’s the prospect of developers offloading computation into the cloud. It’s that second one that worries me more.
Now, I’m not talking about Mattrick’s submarine example, which he talks about in the first link, but the far more realistic situation of people on low speed connections (not 56K, but rather ADSL 2 with 2-3Mb/s download) that are also tied to download limits and even FTTC. And it’s definitely the speed situation that’s unlikely to improve in vast parts of the US and certainly in the UK, despite the apparent investment into fibre optic currently happening across Britain.
The fibre conundrum
I can’t game properly online at home now. I am in a FTTC enabled area, but I am so far away from the exchange box that I have struggled to get a straight answer from ISPs and the organisation steering the rollout that I might get a minimum speed on average that is above the top 2Mb/s I currently get and the under 1Mb/s that I often get during peak times (according to the table here, I might get 15Mb/s tops). And it’s during peak times that people, who do have good connections, should also be worried about.
Whether or not UK ISPs have strict traffic control policies has never been extremely easy to determine as it’s often in the small print of their agreements. Some are meant to no longer have them, but if you live in an area that has households who can afford internet connections, an internet enabled device per person in each household… well it’s not hard to imagine that it doesn’t matter what traffic policies ISPs may provide, if the whole street has several people per household streaming video content and/or playing videogames at peak times – a future Xbox One owner could quite easily curse a developer opting for cloud computation.
Of course people without any fibre will be hugely affected by cloud offloading. And this difficult cloud situation will be a really big issue for those in FTTC areas, because that last bit of copper is already hindering them. And it doesn’t look like the FTTH/FTTP situation in the UK is going to catch-up with the rest of the EU or the world any time soon, with the recent announcement by the Fibre to the Home Council Europe that the UK again “failed to qualify” for inclusion in its latest FTTH rankings because less than 1% of households have FTTH. The UK government currently has no real plan for FTTH.
But why would Microsoft care about any of this? Well, in the UK, sales of the Xbox 360 are meant to have surpassed 8 million earlier this year. Figures for the whole of the EU looks to be around 24.2 million units sold – this would indicate that the UK makes up a significant proportion of MS’s console market in Europe.
The cloud strategy that Microsoft is pursuing with the Xbox One is truly puzzling at this time. Outside of the EU and parts of Asia and the US, public access to decent connection speeds are even more lacklustre than what I’ve described making the idea of a reliance on cloud an unwelcoming prospect.
Edited 14/06/2013 for clarity over speed designations.