Practical: Google Stadia on LTE is not great [Video]

Google Stadia has been maturing its feature set since its launch in November, and today launched a new “experiment”: LTE gameplay. There are many questions for playing a game streaming service over mobile data, and after a little testing I think I can answer some of them.

Is it playable?

Yes … but neither

This is the most important question: can you enjoy the games on Google Stadia when they stream via LTE? The answer is … complicated, and will vary depending on your connection. In my tests, I used Stadia on Verizon Wireless on a Galaxy S20 + that dropped approximately 33Mbps and 10Mbps based on a fast speed test with a 27ms ping.

Technically speaking, that should be more than enough raw speed for Stadia to run at 720p, but obviously mobile data isn’t as stable as a home Wi-Fi connection.

As seen in the demo below, the games are interpretableBut it is not a great experience. Playing a few waves in Orcs Must Die 3, I came across skipped frames (more like skipped chunks) several times per minute, and the controls didn’t particularly respond either. You can see all of this in action below.

For casual titles, this should technically be fine. The Orc experience would definitely have been annoying on a difficult campaign level, but it was tolerable in “endless” mode. Playing a level in Embr was also a decent experience in this experiment.

The quality was also fine. Google is safe downscaling quality here, and from what I could see it was probably at 480p. Still, on the screen of a smartphone, the two titles I played looked pretty good. The frame rate, when it wasn’t jumping, also felt good. I couldn’t really tell if it was 30fps or 60fps, but it was good enough for me.

The only “deciding factor” I really ran into was while on the go. A quick ride in the car, and I just couldn’t play at all, instead I got an error message telling me to restart the app. It’s an understandable mistake since Stadia can’t load data ahead of time like a normal video service would, but it’s also pretty disappointing for anyone hoping to play in-car games on a road trip. I just don’t think that’s possible.

  Google Stadia LTE bug

Still, I’m sure Google can optimize all of this over time, perhaps even with operator partnerships. Only time will tell, and frankly, there is a reason why this feature is experimental. Probably, too, your results will be better if you live in an area with stronger LTE speeds. Or, even if you are only in a different area.

How much data do you consume?

The other big question: how much will this cost you? Mobile data is not free and even unlimited data plans will limit it. So how much does the experimental Google Stadia LTE consume?

In my tests, Google’s 2.7GB / h claim seems correct. In about 25 minutes of play, my Galaxy S20 + on Verizon Stadia consumed just over 800mb of data. However, since most plans start strangling you after 15GB, playing Stadia on a mobile connection seems like a very bad idea to me.

Will 5G be better?

However, there is one question that I can’t answer, and that is that 5G will improve somewhat. I don’t think low band 5G makes things much better, maybe just minimizing the skipping issue a bit. However, faster mmWave technology is sure to make a big difference to Stadia, since that connection is generally faster than your home connection.

If circumstances allow, this is something I hope to prove in the not-too-distant future, although COVID’s wrath might make it a bit difficult. Stay tuned and if you live near a 5G node and want to share your results with us please contact us!

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