Would we be ready for an always-on Xbox?

We investigate the future of always-online gaming

How about Europe and Asia?

As you'd expect, the state of broadband throughout Europe is somewhat all over the place. Akamai's trusty 'State of the Internet' report notes that nations like Spain (48%) and Italy (28%) still do not have the majority of its people on broadband connections, while others like Switzerland (82%) and the Netherlands (82%) are world leaders in this regard.

Like the United States, the percentage of Europeans that have broadband speeds of greater than 10 Mbps is still pretty low across the board, ranging anywhere from 23% in Switzerland to 8.8% in Germany to 2.8% in Italy. But also like the U.S., these figures are generally improving with each passing year.

Two notable European nations where the Xbox 360 has sold a few million units are France and Germany. In the former, the average internet speed clocks in at just 4.8 Mbps and the percentage of people on broadband connections sits at 47%. The latter fares a bit better; the average speed in Germany is 6 Mbps while 62% of Germans have broadband level speeds.

In Australia, the average speed is just 4.2 Mbps, which is actually a 23% decrease over the year prior. Broadband takeup sits at 36% for Australians too, a slight yearly increase, but the number of 10 Mbps and up connections declined 56% to now 3.8% of people. Those aren't good numbers for an always-on console.

Markets like these aren't as lucrative for Microsoft as America's, but the numbers here suggest that a sizable chunk of those overseas would be alienated from an always-on Xbox. Percentage-wise, the risks look higher. If broadband internet does indeed become a requirement for the next Xbox, millions of people in Europe and Australia just wouldn't be able to fit the bill right yet.

Ironically, the one major gaming market where Microsoft has utterly failed with the Xbox 360 is the one where an always-on console might assimilate best: Japan. Gamers there never took to Microsoft's machine and the style of games it offered, and Japanese retailers started phasing out the console back in 2011. According to Japanese market tracker Media Create, a total of 485 Xbox 360 units were moved during the second week of May. (By comparison, the PS3 sold 12,793.) Multiple Japanese market trackers like Media Create and Famitsu have concluded that the system has sold somewhere around 1.6 million units in the country since its launch. That's not a lot.

And yet, Japan's average connection speed of 10.8 Mbps ranks second in the world (behind only South Korea's 14 Mbps benchmark), 76% of its people have broadband speeds, and 39% have speeds greater than 10 Mbps. Broadband still isn't a universal thing in Japan, but compared to the rest of the world its internet appears robust enough to more easily support a constantly connected device. And like most of the rest of the world, its 'net is getting better as time goes on.

And the U.K.?

Internet in the UK is generally cheaper, just about as fast, and slightly more widespread than it is in America, but it's still something in its development stages.

According to Akamai, the average internet speed in the U.K. by the end of last year was 6.5 Mbps. Broadband adoption was at 64% and growing, as that number was a 26% increase over last year. The amount of people with more comfortable speeds of 10 Mbps or more was at 11%, which was a whopping 129% increase over the year before. In other words, an always-on console's requirements could be met by an increasingly large number of U.K. citizens, although there's still a not-insignificant number of people without the necessary 'net.

Communications regulator Ofcom is more or less the FCC of the U.K. when it comes to officially monitoring the nation's internet quality. Its definition of "broadband" is less than Akamai's 4 Mbps requirement, but its most recent findings claim that the average speed for those who do have broadband internet was 12 Mbps as of November 2012.

For those that have wired connections, it says that just 10% have speeds lower than 2 Mbps, and that's decreasing. That is to say, those that are adopting to broadband are getting faster speeds over time, which in turn means that they could more easily adapt to an always-on machine.

As far as access goes, Ofcom says that "current generation broadband" is available in 98.7% of U.K. premises. Speeds faster than 30 Mbps, which Ofcom defines as "superfast broadband" and could comfortably handle multiple internet applications, can be had in 65% of U.K. premises.

The plan is to improve this, as Ofcom hopes to get "almost all" U.K. citizens access to internet speeds of at least 2 Mbps by 2015. The U.K. government also says that it wants to get speeds of at least 30 Mbps out to 90% of premises in that same time frame. Whether or not it'll achieve these goals on time is up in the air, but things are collectively getting better and the whole issue is at least on the national agenda.

One main issue here is that UK ISPs have a habit of forcing consumers to rent phone lines with their internet. The nation's leading provider is BT, for instance, and their plans range from speeds up to 16 Mbps to speeds up to 76 Mbps. Base prices for those go anywhere from £21 to £37 per month (or $32 to $56)--plus one-time installation fees of £30 ($45)--with the first few months often given to new customers at no cost. Other ISP's speeds and prices vary, but those kinds of figures are around the norm for broadband users in the U.K. Virgin Media offers 30, 60, or 100 Mbps broadband plans alone for £22 ($33), £27 ($40), and £34 ($52), for example.

A majority of BT's plans don't put a limit on the amount of bandwidth a user gets every month either. Other major U.K. ISPs like Virgin Media do implement caps, but mostly by capping speeds for select users during particularly busy hours instead of shutting them down entirely. Policies like that could affect U.K. always-on Xbox owners who don't want to their performance to be stuttered at the wrong time, but in general the penalty is less severe than it is in the U.S.

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