How we use the internet has changed - and is changing - dramatically. Ten years ago, most of the UK was on dial-up - and if you had broadband you almost certainly had a 512kbps connection. Today, 512kbps feels like a dial-up connection because the average webpage is well over 1MB. And while the average speed of broadband in the UK is now around 7-8Mbps, we’re trialling 80Mbps and even 330Mbps services. But how has this changed how we consume media - most importantly TV? Read on, for my take on it all …
The faster speed effect - build it and they'll comeWith faster speeds and superfast fibre broadband coming people often ask: "what on earth will I do with 40/80/100/330Mbps?" Right now, there aren’t a huge number of services where the average internet user needs super-fast speeds, but they’ll come. For some people the only chance of getting speeds faster than 2Mbps is through FTTC and FTTP. Lots of households are taking advantage of these services right now so multiple people can do different things online, all at the same time. In such households, for example, you could have one person watching a video on demand service (5Mbps), another watching iPlayer (3.5Mbps), a third gaming, listening to music on YouTube and chatting to friends (2Mbps) and a fourth browsing the web (low average bandwidth but with bursts up to line speed). Sustained throughput is therefore 10.5Mbps with bursts that go even higher, and they may also have downloads and software updates running in the background. So, it’s not that big a leap then to see how you start needing 40 or 80Mbps.
Devices content and demandFaster speeds might explain how more of us are able to consume media online, but what's driving demand? The first increase in demand is down to the proliferation of internet connected devices and therefore the concurrency of usage. How long ago did the average household have a single PC connected to the internet via a USB modem? And now how many of us have phones, tablets, games consoles, set-top boxes, TVs and all sorts of other things that all connect to the internet? (One of our customers even has an IPv6 connected Cat Feeder!) The second increase is the content. People want to view content on the biggest screen they can. That used to be the (small) desktop computer screen, now it’s often the (big) TV. On a large TV, people use the highest bit rate they can to make it look the best. And of course the content providers are providing higher bit rates (all the major streaming players now offer HD streams) so that streaming services can now compete with DVDs on quality as well as convenience and cost. How long will it be before we see even higher bit-rate streams? HD satellite broadcasts are around 9-12Mbps so there’s room for an increased bit-rate for the online streams, not to mention what’s to come in the future. The streaming trends we've spotted: On an average evening, more than 50% of Plusnet customer traffic is streaming - and this peaks higher during big sporting events. Although we are starting to see streaming traffic coming from Netflix, the biggest providers by far are still free services like YouTube at nearly 15% and iPlayer at around 10% of total traffic during our peak period. We've also seen that SkyGo peaks when they have exclusive content like big football games and F1, but barely registers the rest of the time (are people sharing logins with friends who aren’t Sky customers?). 4oD, Demand 5 and ITV Player combined do roughly half the traffic of iPlayer. ITV Player is similar to SkyGo in that it has peaks for exclusive content, such as their Champions League and Euro 2012 games so far. The Manchester derby on Sky Sports beat BBC1 in the TV ratings, and this doesn’t count online viewing. This was also the biggest event we’ve seen from SkyGo but it only represented about 8% of traffic on our network during the 2nd half of the game. YouTube seems to be very popular with the kids, we see a small spike in the morning around 7-8am but only on school days (we don’t see it at the weekend or during school holidays), and then it spikes up rapidly from around 3-4pm when the schools finish. iPlayer is much more centred around the evening peak and you can see clear peaks when there are popular shows on like Top Gear and Doctor Who.
The top 10:In terms of event driven demand these currently rank as the 10 biggest events we’ve seen on the network:
Date – Event
- 13/05/2012 – Final Premier League fixtures/Spanish Grand Prix
- 30/04/2012 – Man City v Man Utd
- 13/10/2011 – Release of iOS5
- 22/04/2012 – Man Utd v Everton/Bahrain Grand Prix
- 24/04/2012 – Barcelona v Chelsea
- 22/01/2012 – Arsenal v Man Utd
- 04/03/2012 – Spurs v Man Utd
- 11/02/2012 – Man Utd v Liverpool
- 05/02/2012 – Chelsea v Man Utd
- 22/01/2012 – Man City v Spurs