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PlayStation 4 Game Downloads Could Threaten Unlimited Broadband Models

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013 (12:39 pm) - Score 2,440

The next generation of video game consoles, such as Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4, are already set to give unlimited broadband ISPs in the United Kingdom a headache due to their new streaming services. But that’s only half the story and those wishing to download games will soon be gobbling in excess of 50GB (GigaBytes) per title.

Over the past two years we’ve seen a strong resurgence of the “unlimited” approach to usage allowances and downloads. Most of the big broadband ISPs have now chosen to abandon restrictive Fair Usage Policies (FUP) in favour of a “truly unlimited” model. Meanwhile many of those that have retained a variable Traffic Management Policy (TMP), such as Virgin Media, still offer “unlimited downloads“.

As broadband speeds have risen then capacity appears to have become cheaper but it’s by no means free and crucially consumer Internet access remains a shared “Best Efforts” service (i.e. a small group of heavy users can still hamper the speeds for others). Indeed we still hear reports about ISPs oversubscribing their capacity in some areas and thus creating big performance drops.

But now that “unlimited” is back, how long will it remain? The advent of 4K Ultra HDTV is imminent and the quality of online content, especially video streaming, continues to rise. Meanwhile the new generation of video games are using higher quality textures and requiring more and more storage space. The latest example of this is the new PS4 game Killzone: Shadow Fall, which if you buy and download it online will gobble up 50GB of data. Not so long ago 30-50GB was considered standard usage for a whole month and many still view it as such.

Fergal Gara, Sony’s UK Managing Director, said (EG):

First of all, it is definitely going to grow as a means of consumption. And there are big innovations in the PS4 to make it more attractive and more easy gamer wise to want to download. The Play as you Download functionality, for example, means you don’t need the whole file before you go.

This is a little bit counterbalanced by the fact the files themselves are getting bloody big. Killzone: Shadow Fall is an uber file – I think it’s cracking on for 50GB. It looks it, too, when you see it.”

The question is will all this additional strain begin to stretch the tight economic models of some “unlimited” providers, especially the cheapest (e.g. TalkTalk, Tesco, Primus Saver etc.)? So far the ISPs don’t appear to be too concerned and most believe that they can handle it. But that’s usually based on current levels of growth and the above suggests that systems like the PS4 and Xbox One could challenge existing assumptions.

Only yesterday PlusNet reported that traffic from online video games over its network, including related downloads, accounted for just 2% of its overall total (here). Admittedly that’s fairly small fry but related traffic has risen by 50% in the last 12 months and that’s before 4K video / TV streams and next gen consoles have become widely adopted.

In fairness most broadband users, even those who would love to download 50GB games at a fair price and without having to queue in a store, might still find the idea unattractive because their real-world speeds remain so poor. But schemes like the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) project are slowly changing all that and the next 5 years could create an interesting test for the unlimited model, as well as the underlying infrastructure. Equally it could prove to be a killer app for faster fibre optic based connections and that might create a useful counterbalance.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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28 Responses
  1. sam says:

    Hopefully isp’s will upgrade their networks as a result of xbox one and ps4 game downloads.

  2. FibreFred says:

    It will be interesting to see what happens on release day for some big titles e.g. Call of Duty etc 🙂

  3. Ignitionnet says:

    Be interesting to see how ISPs manage this on an ongoing basis. Some are hiding broadband price increases within line rental but there’s a not inconsiderable chance they’ll end up stuck between either capping or raising prices directly.

    The other alternative is to let the networks congest a bit and manage that congestion.

  4. Phil says:

    I do fear that isp could bring back capped usage allowance if the isp’s cannot cope with their network unlimited usage allowance. Exspecially Plusnet/BT/Sky and Virgin Media

  5. Roberto says:

    Traffic managing unless it becomes extreme will not matter, even on Virgins current 120Mb product you will still get your several gig game quick enough as i previously explained to a user here…


    Id expect the limits will be more generous if they do launch a 200Mb product. Not worse.

  6. Darren says:

    Won’t the ISPs hosting the content themselves releive the strain and cost.. last time I downloaded a game via xbox live (several months ago) it came from a BT IP address and the transfer never went above ~600KB/s. BT were hosting the content yet it never ran at the full speed my connection can support.

    As I say, this was several months ago so it could be different now, I certainly hope so becasue downloading 50GB at 600KB/s would be frustrating when the connection can do 9000KB/s!

    If BT are hosting the content congestion and bandwidth costs will be reduced which is just aswell, at 50GB per game I imagine people running out of space and redownloading games as and when they want to play them!

    I won’t be getting the new consoles but it will be interesting to see what they do to usage and how the smaller ISPs who can’t store content locally cope with the extra demand.

    1. Roberto says:

      Err what game was that? I doubt anything on xbox live is hosted by BT.

    2. Darren says:

      All games I downloaded at the time were cached by BT.

      It a btwholesale product called Content Connect: https://www.btwholesale.com/pages/static/Products/Broadband/Wholesale_Content_Connect/index.htm

    3. Roberto says:

      Er i doubt any xbox live products or services use that. Microsoft do not need BT servers or services LOL

    4. Matthew says:

      More likely to be Akamai, Pretty sure they put some of their Edge servers in the larger ISP’s networks (Where the ISP is willing to co-operate)

    5. Roberto says:

      Yeah far more likely the content was peered via someone like that. The only content on Live not actually on a MS server is some indie stuff and free game bolt on bits.
      And that still would not be peered or have anything to do with BT servers.

    6. Darren says:

      Who said Microsoft needed BT servers or services. It’s the ISPs who need the caching to reduce bandwidth costs, not microsoft!

      Can you explain why the source IP was BTs?

    7. Roberto says:

      The content itself would not be on a BT server, i dunno what you downloaded but Xbox live does not use BT for anything. Maybe you got something from some dog slow mirror other than that i have no idea.

  7. SlowLincolnshire says:

    We all knew this would happen scenario would come sooner or later and that BT’s half baked hybrid roll out of FTTC was never going to be the solution to the huge increase in bandwidth demand. How difficult was it really to predict this would happen?? What ever happened to building something that is prepared and designed to be somewhat future proof?? Gigabit fibre providers and pioneers FTW

    1. FibreFred says:

      Is it such a problem waiting a few hours for a download, really??

      How long does it take to get from a shop or buy online and have it delivered?

    2. GNewton says:

      Agreed. For almost half of all VDSL users who won’t even be faster than 40mbps it would literally take hours to download. And it will also be a lot of added load to the fibre backbones. This can quickly become an ISPs nightmare scenario.

    3. Roberto says:

      Yep even if you have FTTC at full speed it will still be dog slow compared to other products out there. Even on Virgins 120Mb product with throttling applied you will still get a 50gig file quicker than any up to 76Mb FTTC user. Something like a B4RN product or Hyperoptic would crush them both and be done in about a few minutes LOL

      If you are on the 40Mb FTTC products and live within walking distance of town (call it 30mins walk tops) it would probably be quicker to walk to the shop buy the game and walk home. LOL

      It is going to be like the 33-56k days and trying to download a single song.

    4. FibreFred says:

      Yes Deduction that’s just what it will be like

    5. Roberto says:

      I glad despite you reporting posts you agree FTTC is dead slow.

  8. Darren says:

    FibreFred, the point of downloading the game is that it’s more convenient, isn’t it? If you have to wait hours for it to download that’s not really convenient, especially if you could get to the shop and back in less time.

    Also, some people don’t have time to wait hours for a game to download, if you only have a few hours spare now and again to spend gaming your not going to want to spend all of that waiting for the game to download.

    Is it such a problem waiting a few hours for a download? Not all the time no, but if you do have to wait everytime it limits the advantages and usefulness.

    1. FibreFred says:

      Ok sure, but are you paying for a product that will allow you to download 50gig at max rate any time of day?

      I think you’ll find the answer is no. That’s the trouble with broadband in the UK its been price driven down to nothing. You just can’t expect that level of service for the price you pay.

    2. GNewton says:

      You are wasting your time arguing with FibreFred. He already has a VDSL line with unlimited downloads. He won’t admit though that his beloved VDSL is not up to this task.

    3. FibreFred says:

      Oh Newton, I’m trying to have a decent debate here why resort to trolling.

    4. Darren says:

      I’m not paying for assured rates no as you well know.

      I have however uploaded and downloaded several GB’s at different times of the day at max rate with no slowdowns. So why does xbox live content need to run significantly slower than line rate, especially if it’s been cached locally.

      This superfast BB is all well and good but if products available to take advantage of it are throttled it makes superfast BB pointless. I’d be very dissapointed if I’d moved over to VDSL to get faster xbox content downloads only to find they ran at the same speed as my adsl line.

    5. FibreFred says:

      “So why does xbox live content need to run significantly slower than line rate, especially if it’s been cached locally.”

      How do you mean? Not sure what this means

    6. JNeuhoff says:

      Some people seem to believe that VDSL is sufficient for most users for many years to come. Well, this simple example shows it isn’t. VDSL has already reached its limit, with no real prospect for big improvements.

    7. FibreFred says:

      “Well, this simple example shows it isn’t”

      So lets expand on this one then and before you start I’m not defending any tech, I want to understand that statement.

      So for a 50GB file to download, what is your expectation as to how long that should take, bearing in mind that’s just your take and it will change from person to person but I’m interested anyway, this is obviously bearing in mind where you are downloading it from can also cope with the demand (e.g. release day of the latest GTA or Call of Duty).

      How quick should it download and how much would you be willing to pay for that level of service?

    8. Roberto says:

      The rest of the planet no matter how much he complains defines a “decent debate” entirely differently to how freds mind processes those words.

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