World Cup demand on mobile shows data costs too much: SBS

Record levels of streaming seen during 2014 World Cup

Australians who exceeded their mobile data caps during this year's World Cup should blame their telcos for providing restrictive limits, according to broadcaster SBS.

SBS had 450,000 downloads of its mobile app, which could be used to stream all 64 games of the World Cup. For connections that could handle it, the app streams video at 3.45Mbps. The fastest SBS had streamed previously was 1.5Mbps.

Used for long periods of time during a commute to work, this quality of video can eat through data caps that in Australia are commonly between 1GB and 3 GB per month.

The primary goal of SBS with regard to streaming was to provide the best quality video possible, not sacrificing quality for the sake of saving data for consumers, SBS officials said at a lunch today hosted by Akamai.

Matt Costain, SBS technical director of online, said he's heard reports of people going over their data caps. SBS has provided guidelines and other documentation to educate consumers about the amount of data used by streaming, he said.

"We wanted to offer the best possible experience and then worked backwards from there," said Toby Forage, SBS executive producer of sport online.

"If you're not going to showcase what you can do in an event the size of the World Cup, then you might as well give up."

Costain added, "If that puts considerable pressure on the [mobile] networks to lower their costs, then we're all for that."

Malcolm Rowe, Akamai vice president of sales in South Asia, said deciding whether to provide the highest quality or be "socially responsible" by focusing on consumer data caps is a challenge.

"We would be criticised if we limited our quality," he said. "In this instance it's about user experience and utilising technology to demonstrate where we're going and how we're going to get there."

Through a website and mobile apps, SBS has provided live and catch-up streaming of all 64 games of the World Cup. In addition, SBS website users have been able to simultaneously view streams of up to four camera angles, placing more pressure on servers.

SBS chose Akamai to manage the large amounts of traffic expected. The actual traffic load has exceeded expectations, but Costain said SBS has had 100 per cent uptime so far.

While the World Cup is not over, the amount of video streaming has already broken SBS records for an event by 750 per cent, said Costain.

In a single day of the World Cup this year, SBS delivered 280TB of video, which was more than a quarter of the video bandwidth that the TV network normally sees in a month, he said.

During the first two weeks, Australian traffic peaked at 103Gbps during Australia's match against Chile. In that match, there were 80,000 simultaneous users and 34,000 on the app.

SBS expects even more traffic for the grand final in a few days, Costain said.

While many games have aired before sunrise in Australia, SBS saw more live streaming than catch-up, he said. The opposite was true for Australian games, but that could be because they were watched live on TV, he said.

SBS has seen 22 million page impressions for the World Cup website and 24 million page impressions for the app, Costain said. The highest single day saw 1.5 million impressions on the website and 1.6 million on the app, he said.

Costain said there have been 9 million visits to the Web and 5 million to the app; 3.7 million unique browsers to Web and 500,000 unique browsers to the app.

Akamai worked with more than 50 rights holders and 24 broadcasters worldwide to deliver online services for the World Cup.

Globally, the USA-Belgium match resulted in the most online traffic for a single event at 5.68Tbps, Akamai said. Australia's match against Chile saw 2.0Tbps of traffic globally.

The highest total traffic peak, 6.84Tbps, occurred during the concurrent Portugal vs. Ghana and USA vs. Germany matches, Akamai said.

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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