World Cup latest: England outplayed by broadband

AS the rest of the country asks, 'how did we manage to get knocked out so early?' the UK's broadband boffins are tackling a different problem.

How did the first major sporting event to hit broadband since the advent of iPlayer affect our networks?

Surge in demand

Increased demand for bandwidth during big games, caused by huge numbers of people streaming matches via BBC iPlayer and the like, typically pushes up response times and the number of dropped connections.

The usual outcome is that streams start buffering, much to the general annoyance of those watching.

Those running our broadband networks will usually try to account for the increased demand, just as the National Grid turns on a few extra power stations when everyone simultaneously makes a tea after Eastenders.

That's why, for example, many broadband providers impose rules during peak usage times.

However, some analysts predicted that the huge surge in demand during World Cup matches would be too much for the networks, and more specifically individuals sharing a connection, to take.

"UK workers clearly want to watch World Cup matches live on their PCs. However, we advise all businesses to be mindful about the impact this could have on their day-to-day business operations," Clodagh Murphy, Director of Eclipse Internet said in May.

"Streamed content uses a lot of bandwidth and this could seriously impact the performance of their business internet connection. It could take much longer to download important files or use business critical applications such as ecommerce sites, email or online backup. It might even lead to office computer systems crashing".

Eclipse's research showed that a minority of office workers - 42% - had thought about how streaming the match could affect their business' internet connection.

A good performance?

One positive to have come out of England's early bath from the competition, however, is that, in the main, Eclipse and their ilk seem to have been proved wrong.

As it turns out, the country's broadband networks can generally cope pretty well with increased demand for traffic.

And there was an increase.

Akamai, the global network which delivers 20% of the world's traffic, says that the weekend beginning 12 June represented the most visitors to top news sites ever: 12.1 million visitors a minute, 3.6 million more than when Barack Obama won the election.

Despite that strain, our broadband networks performed admirably and continue to do so, unlike some national teams we could mention.

Millions of Brits went online to watch the match without a hitch.

It wasn't a perfect performance, though: there were some notable consequences of our insatiable appetite for national disappointment.

Data from latency watchers thinkbroadband clearly shows that during England's match with Slovenia a week ago demand for bandwidth and the negative side effects shot up.

The number of lost packets rose and latency (ping times) increased, likely to have caused an increase in the number of errors received and the inevitable 'buffering' of live streams.

Interestingly, demand during the Germany game wasn't as high, probably because it was played on a Sunday when most people can watch it on the television rather than have to sneakily watch it at work via iPlayer.

Of course, it could also have something to do with the fact we were thumped 4-1.

ISP star players

Further info from speed obsessed Be Broadband gives us an insight into the performance of individual providers.

The disparity in the level of performance achieved by the various broadband providers shows that some were up there with Ashley Cole whilst others had a bit of a Rooney and couldn't pull their best game out of the bag.

BT and Demon, for example, suffered with the worst congestion. Their average response times were pushing 55ms during the Slovenia game. Typical response times are around 20ms.

On the other hand, TalkTalk, Sky, Virgin Media, Be and Plusnet customers all saw increased traffic but without adverse effect.

Be used the opportunity to push their 'campaign to banish buffering', essentially a marketing move to encourage people to pay for their faster ADSL2+ network.

However, as a man from Plusnet who looks uncannily unlike Jeremy Clarkson notes below, it's not just the top possible speed (or 'up to') but a whole range of factors that affect speeds.

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