Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5 launches unleash UK network traffic surge

Game console launches show network providers need to upgrade their infrastructure and invest in the latest networking technology to ensure reliable, resilient and robust performance

In March 2020, the UK’s network providers issued assurances that their networks could take the strain from millions of people working from home due to lockdown conditions, but they noted that massive peaks in traffic came not from business or entertainment apps, but games – and the launch of the PlayStation 5 has seen these predictions come true.

Unleashed on the world with the tagline “Play has no limits”, the PS5 launched in the UK on 19 November and almost immediately the PlayStation website, and that of the console’s distributors, crashed through overuse as game fanatics aimed to purchase the device on the day of its launch.

Undeterred by not being able buy the new console in physical stores because of lockdown, gamers hit the internet looking for alternative purchasing locations and, according to BT’s UK broadband provision division, Openreach, caused a massive surge in traffic across its network, with more than 161PB being used. The surge was just short of the 174PB consumed across the Openreach network on 10 November with the release of the Xbox Series X.

Openreach CTIO Colin Lees said the company estimated that there was an average weekday consumption of about 164PB on Friday 13 November, more than four times the amount of data in the entire written works of mankind from the beginning of recorded history, in all languages. This, not surprisingly, has had the company examining its provision protocols, a process that began as the lockdowns came into force earlier in the year.

Openreach has seen consistent rises in online traffic throughout the coronavirus pandemic, with millions more people are working from home and spending time online,” said Lees. “We plan all the time for potential spikes in usage, especially when we might expect large numbers of people to go online and start using data simultaneously. And given that millions of homes and businesses across the UK could still upgrade to faster, more reliable services, it’s always worth checking what’s available in your area.”

Such peaks from gaming were highlighted way back on 13 March, just before the UK’s first national lockdown was initiated. Aiming to alleviate worries in both the business and consumer community, Howard Watson, chief technology officer at the BT Group, published a video with the express purpose of clearing up any confusion and offering reassurance on home working because of the coronavirus.

While acknowledging that traffic would increase substantially with more people at home, Watson revealed that the BT network peaks for traffic between 8pm and 9pm, when network capacity reaches about 17TB per second. This was mainly driven by people streaming material or downloading the latest software updates for online and console games.

Watson pointed out that this peak, which BT manages routinely, was significantly higher than from households during the day – perhaps 10 times more.

Openreach’s findings were also predicted by Extreme Networks on 16 November when Markus Nispel, vice-president international markets – office of the CTO, noted that in the light of the Xbox and Call of Duty causing record broadband data usage during the previous week, the then imminent PlayStation 5 launch would almost certainly put a similar strain on UK networks.

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With the more affordable version of the console coming without an optical drive, mandatory day-one software updates and some of the launch titles being over 100GB, gamers would be downloading a lot of data in a very short period of time – and this threatened network performance in general for business users.

Nispel said: “The fact that some of these games have online functionalities and the initial setting up of the console often happens during working hours, the reality is that we are looking at a perfect storm that has the potential to seriously disrupt network performance if no action is taken.

“Taking action is crucial, given that connectivity is business-critical for remote workers. The short-term solution for network providers is to find a way to balance the demand against the available bandwidth to make sure gamers can enjoy their new consoles, businesses and home workers can go about their day-to-day operations and everyday consumers continue to experience reliable network connectivity.

“One way to ensure this is to prioritise traffic by investing in intelligent traffic engineering solutions both at the edge with SD-WAN and in the core so that critical services, such as voice and video traffic as well as access to the main cloud services from the hyperscale providers, continue to run smoothly.”

In a call to action, Nispel advised that in the longer term, network providers need to upgrade their infrastructure and invest in the latest networking technology to ensure reliable, resilient and robust performance for all users at all times.

He added that the latest PlayStation was just the latest example of consumer devices going all-digital and competing for bandwidth and that the pressure on networks will only increase.

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