THE BLOG

Football Fever: Will the UK's Broadband Keep Up?

11/06/2014 12:15 BST | Updated 10/08/2014 10:59 BST

This month will see international football fever dominate media headline and the social lives of football followers, with millions of us across the globe tuning in to watch one of the world's biggest sporting events.

The excitement is already building, particularly online. Twitter has released a study from GlobalWebIndex showing how 90 per cent of Twitter users in the UK will be watching this year's international tournament, whilst enjoying the instantaneous reporting and interactivity that the social media site facilitates.

Interestingly, the survey also revealed that one in three UK Twitter users are more interested in the football than they were in 2010. I strongly believe we will start to see more people commenting on the tournament via Twitter than ever before.

Although UK online TV and video streaming has improved in the past three years, we have to ask ourselves if the UK's broadband can hold up to the upsurge in viewers.

Will UK broadband survive the streaming chaos?

Generally speaking, you need to have a broadband speed of 2 to 5 Megabits per second to stream online without the picture quality diminishing or buffering. The Government has set a universal service commitment target of everyone having a 2 Mbps or faster connection, although the deadline is 2015 to 2017. Our recent study of speeds across the UK (January 2014 to April 2014) shows that significant numbers of people in the UK have connections that are too slow to reliably stream videos, including Powys, Merthyr Tydfil and Pembrokeshire. In the Borough of Bromley where 4 out of 10 have a 30 Mbps or faster connection, 1 in 15 will struggle to stream video.

England fans who are looking to view the first game against Italy and have broadband speeds of 2 Mega bits per second or over, may find that while 11pm is traditionally when peak usage time starts to tail off, interest in the tournament might mean that while the connection can physically cope, their broadband provider may not have the capacity to keep up.

For matches that have a midnight (UK time) or later kick-off there is likely to be lots of spare capacity, because by this time daily peak in usage will start to fall. Although the matches will be available via the traditional broadcast methods, the last few years have seen sporting events create very large peaks in usage due to the combination of streaming and social media.

So, what can football fans do to ensure they are receiving the best broadband speeds for online streaming?

Choose the right deal for you

Check to see if your service provider has a more up-to-date product that offers faster speeds. However, be aware that you may enter into a new contract that is 12 months or longer. Even with the first match just days away, it may still be possible to upgrade with your existing provider.

If you are in an area served by LLU (local loop unbundled) operators such as TalkTalk and Sky, then you may be able to switch to a faster ADSL2+ service rather than an older, up to 8 Mega bits per second ADSL service. Compared to four years ago, three quarters of us also have the option of upgrading to a fibre-based connection which can offer much faster speeds than last generation services. While some fibre based services suffer speed drop offs due to distance, I estimate that 98 per cent of those who can order a fibre-based service will get speeds that are easily capable of handling a high definition video stream.

The 'bundle' deal

Take full advantage of a bundle deal. Companies such as Virgin Media and Sky are bundling television and phone services, as well as mobile networks which offer broadband and mobile bundles.

Remember that with sports TV packages, it is almost always better value to get a deal that bundles TV with phone and broadband. Generous discounts are applied to bundled deals, which can help offset some of the extra cost of the sports channels. In other words, if you can combine the services, you may be able to save money.

Test the speed

Run a few speed tests at different times of the day. Find out how your broadband is performing. Early mornings should be the least busy time of the day, so in essence you should receive faster upload and download speeds at this time. Our speed test shows a graph of your test which allows you to judge whether you are getting a consistently good connection or if video buffering may be an issue.

Use a wired connection

Wi-Fi is now so popular that many people see congestion over the wireless connection. If at all possible use an Ethernet cable connection for your streaming laptop or TV. To get the best wireless connection, I strongly recommend a 5GHz dual-band wireless router and capable hardware.

Unplug unnecessary hardware

If it comes to match day and you are getting buffering in the pre-amble to a game, unplug the phones and anything else apart from your broadband router on the telephone line and restart your broadband router. This may just improve the connection enough to stream without errors, and when you have time to investigate more, pay our user forums a visit for advice on how to solve your problem permanently.