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ISP TalkTalk Brace for “Massive” Spike in Traffic from Gaming

Monday, February 10th, 2020 (11:54 am) - Score 9,045

Low cost UK broadband ISP TalkTalk has informed ISPreview.co.uk that online video games are increasingly producing significant surges in internet data traffic on their network. Indeed they’re braced for another “massive spike” tomorrow with the release of the Call of Duty Modern Warfare Season 2 update (v1.14).

In today’s modern world, where an increasing number of video games can easily gobble over 100GB (GigaBytes) of storage space, even regular patches can often be multi-GigaBytes in size. Combine that with the tendency to start automatic updates when players sign-in (often all during peak periods in the afternoon) and it’s easy to see why big updates can suck up a lot of data capacity on modern broadband networks.

For example, the previous Modern Warfare v1.13 “patch” came in at 48GB on PCs, 13GB on PS4 and 18.4GB on Xbox One! Only last week TalkTalk said that it observed one of the “highest data traffic spikes of the past 12 months“, which followed the combined release of both the Apex Legends Season 4 release and the Call of Duty update.

Apparently the aforementioned spike was the first time that a traffic peak of this size has been driven by gaming alone on TalkTalk’s network. In total the broadband ISP said they saw a spike of 5.43Tbps (Terabits per second) – for context, this beats the total traffic driven by two Premier League matches (‘Arsenal v Brighton & Hove Albion‘ and ‘Sheffield v Newcastle‘) matches on the same day back in December, at 5.22Tbps.

Gary Steen, TalkTalk’s Technology MD, told ISPreview.co.uk:

“These data spikes are massive, and it’s just the beginning for peak gaming season – with Fortnite Chapter 2, Drone Champions League and Pokémon Mystery Dungeon released in the next month and many more on the way. But it’s not just gaming causing these spikes. With the Microsoft patch update on its way, TalkTalk knows how important having strong, reliable internet is to its growing number of gaming customers – so they don’t get any drop-offs, lagging or data caps mid-game – which they can feel sure of with TalkTalk’s Unlimited Fibre Broadband.”

The issue is by no means unique to TalkTalk and is something that all consumer facing broadband ISPs have to grapple with, which is not unlike the adaption that was needed when online video streaming began to truly explode via YouTube, Netflix, BBC (iPlayer) and others some years back. However it’s rare that such ISPs provide us with such an insight into their network traffic.

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11 Responses
  1. Avatar CarlT

    Given the amount of customers they have they either measure stats differently from others or have really light users.

    How low their usage is across their network continues to surprise me every time I see it.

    Potentially explains the pricing flexibilities they have.

    • Avatar Ryan

      It’s a werid one 5.43Tbps is quite low for ISP of that side, one way they could measured that would show lower is don’t count traffic to Akamai and Netflix caches hosted in Talktalk own network but I doubt the would be enough.

    • Avatar CarlT

      Yeah possibly Ryan but they usually want to inflate the numbers with these kind of releases so try and include absolutely every byte they can find.

      They would see all the traffic to and from those caches – they’re the ones supplying the router and switch ports for them.

  2. Avatar Mike

    Another reason 1Gbps couldn’t come sooner, less constant load on the backhaul as people get games/patches more quickly.

    • Avatar CarlT

      Yeah… doesn’t quite work like that when it’s something really popular. You end up with a bunch of bottlenecks as the bursts are massive relative to the normal traffic loads.

      No ISP can realistically engineer their network to handle the couple of megabits per second per customer at peak times bursting as a series of gigabit customers simultaneously start downloads.

      It just moves the bottleneck away from the access circuit onto the content provider, the operator’s own core or the transit and peering links.

      This was covered in a talk by Andy Furnell, then of Zen, actually, showing how much spikier load is as the speeds go up. A house is happily watching Netflix in 1080p for a bit chugging a few megabits a second then a patch lands and demand bursts to 900 Mb. Multiple this by, say, 10,000.

      I can’t see TalkTalk, given they describe 5.4 Tb/s as a massive burst, having 9 Tb/s of capacity spare for just in case – speeds would I imagine slow significantly from the full capacity of the bearer circuit.

    • Avatar JmJohnson

      Only makes a difference if the backbone is upgraded as well…
      In this scenario it’s the backbone where the contention is so it doesn’t matter if everyone has 1Gbps or 30Mbps, the end user would still only download at 20Mbps and thus it would still take the same amount of time.
      This is why some ISPs have CDN servers within their network, it reduces the load on their backbone and thus saves them money.

  3. Avatar Boris Johnson

    Its BT backhaul!

    • Avatar James

      Yes, however it’s TalkTalk network I goes to before the outer internet.

    • Avatar CarlT

      It’s BT backhaul up to the headend. Then it’s TalkTalk network. They may be leasing the capacity but that’s where the ‘BT’ part ends. TalkTalk are responsible for the capacity and sizing of the network from the Openreach L2S/OLT onwards.

  4. Avatar Phil

    It’s just a PR release to get their name in news articles, and it worked. The demand on their network from a new game isn’t going to be very different to most other ISPs.

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