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World of Warcraft Patch Causes Broadband Usage Trauma

Posted: 24th Oct, 2008 By: MarkJ
The recent 2GigaByte (GB) patch for a popular online multiplayer game, World of Warcraft (WoW), has apparently caused some headaches for both ISPs and the BBC's technology correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones. Writing on his blog last week, Cellan-Jones said:

"I've been keeping a close eye on my bandwidth use at home because I keep breaking through my 25gb per month limit. When I signed up to my ISP I thought that would be ample, but then found that we were using as much as 1gb a day, which seemed a lot. Then on Wednesday this week we broke all records, with more than 2gb downloaded."

It turned out that Cellan-Jones's son had been busily downloading the latest WoW patch, which clocked in at an impressively huge 2GB. However it's likely that more than 2GB would have been transferred because WoW's updater is P2P based, which uploads and shares data with others at the same time as it downloads.

Typically multiplayer gaming itself usually doesn't consume this much bandwidth because the data packets must be small for the game to run smoothly (low latency). However modern patches and updates can often be huge, reaching into the GigaBytes. In this case even some ISPs noticed the difference:

When I spoke to Neil Armstrong from another internet service provider PlusNet, he confirmed that the World of Warcraft update had certainly been a major event: "It's a very big patch... we've seen a very significant increase in traffic." And he said online gaming in general did use up quite a bit of bandwidth - around 120Mb for a four-hour session. Not as much, though, as streaming video services like the iPlayer, which Plusnet's usage monitor tells me uses 250Mb an hour.

But it's clear that together online gaming and video streaming are having a dramatic impact on the amount of bandwidth consumers use - and they are increasingly having to pay for that. Mr Armstrong told me that a couple of years ago his average customer would rarely use more than 2gb a month, whereas now that's up to around 7gb. He said a third of customers using Plusnet's 15gb a month service were now finding they needed to top up, at 75p a gigabyte, for extra bandwidth.

Cellan-Jones has since decided to shell out some extra cash for a larger 50GB usage allowance. It is a good reminder of how bandwidth consumption can come back to bite you in the bum unless you keep a close eye on it.
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