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UK Study Claims Slow Broadband Speed Fosters Low Internet Use

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016 (2:33 pm) - Score 578
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An interesting study from researches at King’s College London, which examined 1.9 billion UK sessions of BBC iPlayer video streaming by 32 million monthly users between May 2013 and January 2014, has suggested that people in the UK who suffer from slow broadband speeds will also spend less time online.

Sadly the BBC article doesn’t offer much in the way of any actual data to grit our teeth on, although after a lot of hunting we did eventually find the related report (Download PDF). Mind you the notion that broadband speed can affect what people do and how long they spend online isn’t exactly a surprise.

The study, which was focused on factors that affect the usage and adoption of a nation-wide TV streaming service, also finds that Mobile Broadband data caps imposed by mobile operators can affect usage patterns, which is again somewhat stating the obvious.

The fact that the study only looked at iPlayer usage and used old Ofcom data for broadband speeds is another weak point, not least because there are plenty of people who almost never use iPlayer but they do make heavy use of other Internet video services (I’m one of them).

Summary of the Study Findings

1) We demonstrate that iPlayer usage in a geographic region is correlated with average broadband speeds in that region, underscoring the need for high-speed broadband infrastructure.

2) We find that mobile devices have a disproportionate share of live accesses, and external events such as Wimbledon can have a significant impact.

3) Distinct diurnal patterns of access are seen for different kinds of providers: Fixed-line broadband peaks during evening hours whereas cellular network access peaks during commute times, for mobile providers with limited data plans. Mobile providers with unlimited plans observe a superposition of both patterns, with peaks during commutes and evening hours.

4) We characterise the load shares of users’ iPlayer sessions across different providers and find, as expected that fixed-line broadband captures the highest fraction of users’ session loads. We also show that offering unlimited data plans captures significantly higher fraction of users’ iPlayer sessions for mobile providers. However, we also find that an alternate strategy of offering price discounts and product bundles with a dedicated fixed-line broadband infrastructure can also serve to capture greater shares of users’ sessions and make both the fixed-line and mobile provider attractive as a package to customers.

5) Mobile users often split their content consumption across different sessions. Such sessions are either first started on fixed-line broadband and finished while on the move (53%), or started on a cellular connection and finished later on a fixed connection (47%). In particular, 25% of the 47% sessions started first on mobile networks are for new episodes of a regularly watched TV show. We argue that such simple viewing patterns offer significant opportunities for pre-fetching content from a fixed connection and offload data from mobile broadband connections.

6) Users over mobile connections access more adult and less children-related content than over fixed-line connections. Because children-related content can be up to 25% on fixed-line connections, this has important implications for caching and cache-peering across different kinds of providers.

It’s important to remember that many of those with slower connections may now be able to order a faster service because superfast broadband availability has expanded rapidly since the study collected its data. Equally some people might simply not feel a need to do upgrade, while others could feel discouraged by the higher prices and it’s possible that a few may not even be aware of the opportunity to upgrade.

Never the less broadband speed is very important to video streaming and a recent Ovum study suggested that 25Mbps was an “appropriate target access speed to provide a high quality experience for video services.” This is perhaps true for High Definition (HD) streams that may only require 1-5Mbps (depending on quality and codec), but a single 4K video stream would gobble all of that up with ease and these are becoming more common.

Lest we not forget that the broadband speed required to stream a good quality of video tends to reduce over time as compression methods and computers improve (example), although this is often balanced by rises in the resolution of the display technologies that we all use (e.g. 4K TV’s are starting to become common, but previously HD was the best).

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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2 Responses
  1. Captain Cretin

    In other news; bears usually crap in the woods, and the Pope is usually Catholic.

  2. 3G Infinity

    Tend to disagree with one assertion:- This is perhaps true for High Definition (HD) streams that may only require 1-5Mbps (depending on quality and codec)

    HD as transmitted by Sky and BBC needs 8Mbps committed, Sky tried dropping this to 6Mbps but was inundated with complaints.

    Ideally if we were to have 1080p (as opposed to the 1080i offered) then 16Mbps would be great. BBC for outside broadcast do 1080i at a 56Mbps rate for recording on wireless cameras and 256Mbps+ on fibre connected cameras.

    Agree for 4k, a 16 to 24mbps stream rate would be okay FOR the 1st set-top box, the other boxes plus, laptops, tablets, phones etc would soon see a 56Mbps “superfast” rate gobbled up

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