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BBC Online recorded some of its highest ever traffic volumes during the 16 June England versus Wales match at the 2016 European Championships, with record numbers of people streaming the game to their mobile devices, highlighting the growth of over-the-top (OTT) entertainment services, and their impact on network quality.
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As a result of the surge of people watching online, mobile network operator EE also claimed to have recorded its highest volume of traffic ever shortly after Daniel Sturridge scored the late winner for England.
EE said data network traffic across its network, measured in gigabits per second, was 50% higher than the previous peak, which occurred during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Its chart showed a clear spike in traffic during the game, with a dip at half-time and a peak towards the end of the match.
According to BBC Sport director Barbara Slater, 11.8 million unique daily browsers from the UK visited the BBC Sport website on 16 June, beating the previous record of 10.2 million uniques, set on the final day of the 2015/16 Premier League season.
Slater said that 2.3 million unique browsers were watching the match online, double the previous record, in addition to a 73% share of broadcast television viewers during the match.
“We are delighted that the BBC’s digital offering again allowed so many people to share in this huge game. Our enhanced service, in addition to our TV and radio coverage, puts audiences at the very heart of the Euro 2016 action,” she said.
“The BBC has pioneered live digital event coverage from London 2012 Olympics to Glastonbury, and our record-breaking figures highlight its increasing importance to audiences.”
Challenges for network owners
Joe Marsella, Europe, Middle East and Africa CTO at network supplier Ciena, said the BBC’s experience highlighted the challenges that demand spikes for internet video could have for service providers – whether they were network operators or OTT providers.
“Their ability to maintain quality of service for all users while also managing the cost implications of facilitating bandwidth-hungry services is a delicate balancing act,” he said.
“OTT services are not going away, and moments of national interest such as Euro 2016, the Olympics, Wimbledon and more will continue to have an impact on internet traffic, particularly as faster connections enable and encourage more HD and 4K streaming.”
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Andrew Chant, head of networks at cloud connectivity supplier Exponential-e, claimed to have recorded an increase of 30% in volumes of traffic crossing customer networks since the tournament began.
He highlighted the need for enterprise network owners to pay more attention to what was happening on their infrastructure.
“By ensuring they are able to monitor and manage bandwidth hungry applications, businesses should be able to balance employees’ appetite for witnessing sporting victory with business-critical programmes for an uninterrupted user experience,” said Chant.
Marsella added that service providers, as well as enterprises, needed to pay more attention to network agility, capacity and overall management. Tools such as network virtualisation, traffic shaping and so on would help ensure potential congestion didn’t materialise during periods of high bandwidth demand from OTT services.
A recent study produced at King’s College London demonstrated a correlation between overall broadband speed and usage of OTT services such as BBC iPlayer.
Researchers revealed that in virtually all cases, those areas of the UK with the lowest amount of iPlayer streaming were also those with generally slow broadband. These included the Isle of Wight, East Yorkshire, Northumberland in England; Aberdeenshire, Midlothian and South Ayrshire in Scotland; and Ards and North Down in Northern Ireland.
“With technological advancements, it is likely that more services important to daily life will move online, yet there is a significant proportion of the population with inadequate broadband connections who won't be able access such services,” said lead researcher Nishanth Sastry.
“The lack of high-quality broadband is having an affect on many people's ability to access streaming services. If they can't access streaming services, it is reasonable to assume other data-heavy services, such as music streaming, rich news sites or social media, may not be suitably accessible, leaving a significant number behind.”
Sastry’s study also looked at the impact of mobile streaming, whichs showed similar trends, although he noted that usage of mobiles for streaming services tended to peak between seven and nine in the morning, and five and seven in the evening, indicating a clear link with commuting habits.