Subspace CEO: ‘The internet doesn’t understand the needs of real-time applications, like multiplayer gaming’
As gaming continues to emerge as a prominent use case for advanced technologies like 5G and cloud computing, internet and mobile service providers are becoming bigger players in the gaming space. No one knows this better than Subspace, which operates a global networking platform focused on improving the experience of online multiplayer games.
“We work with hundreds of carriers and telcos around the world from fixed through wireless,” the company’s CEO and Founder Bayan Towfiq told RCR Wireless News. “Our customers are primarily game publishers, but we work very collaboratively with ISPs, partly because one of the top reasons people call carrier call centers is to complain that their game is lagging.”
However, according to Towfiq, when it comes to online multiplayer games, 5G and edge computing might not be all they’re cracked up to be. Before delving into why that may be, it should first be pointed out that online gaming is now considered one of the fastest growing industries in the world and is expected to reach $196 billion in revenue by 2022, according to Visual Capitalist.
“What does 5G actually do for us?” asked Towfiq, referring specifically to gamers and those looking to connect gamers. “I like to say that 5G makes your mobile connection as bad as your home connections. It solves the last few hundred yards and makes it a lot better, but the internet is still the internet and it was never built for real-time applications.”
Once caching no longer did the trick for what users desired from the internet, the next logical step was moving servers closer to users, which Towfiq observed resulted in companies like Amazon spending millions of dollars on data center infrastructure. The next evolution of the internet was to optimize it for streaming services like Netflix.
“But the internet doesn’t understand the needs of real-time applications,” added Towfiq. “It doesn’t coordinate on a global scale and internet traffic isn’t routed to solve for latency problems; it’s been built to make sure the pipes are fat.”
In other words, it’s not built and designed for competitive multiplayer games, as well as other real-time online activities that are currently seeing gains in popularity such as real-time voice and video, telemedicine and play-by-play sports betting.
“The internet was really built and designed as a loose federation of independent networks,” said Towfiq.
The issue, as alluded to earlier, with 5G is that it really only addresses the last mile of the network. “From 3G to 4G and now 5G, that latency from the cell tower to that handset is way down,” said Towfiq.
However, it’s really the “middle mile”, or where ISPs connection their networks to one another, that causes problems for multiplayer gaming.
“What we’re seeing is that because of middle-mile performance issues, in places like the Middle East, three-quarters of the population is outside of playable range for competitive multiplayer games. And in Europe and North America, it’s still one-quarter of the population that is outside the playable range,” he continued. “And this is all due to middle-mile issues, not last mile ones.”
So, Subspace has made it their mission to solve the congestion and pathfinding from within the ISPs network all the way to the server on the other side.
And cloud-edge computing won’t solve for the online multiplayer category of gaming either, according to Towfiq. In fact, one of the big criticisms with platforms like Google’s Stadia is that users experience “twitchy” competitive multiplayer games.
“Even if you’re close enough to the cloud gaming server, you still have the rest of the internet to contend with for multiplayer, you still have to go to a server somewhere in the world where all other players are meeting you,” Towfiq argued.
Further, because every multiplayer game needs a certain number of players in each game, you can only have a few servers per continent, and therefore you can’t just keep moving every server closer to each gamer. If you were to do that, “the interactive player pool goes down to ultimately one.”
“Edge computing doesn’t solve that problem. You can only run one or two [cloud servers]per continent and that’s it,” he continued. “You can’t push that multiplayer component to the edge, ever.”
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