Can Your Broadband Handle the New Console Generation?

12/12/2013 14:44 GMT | Updated 11/02/2014 10:59 GMT

After months of speculation, the next generation of games consoles is finally upon us, and so far the internet has managed to avoid melting down.

The roll-out of the new PS4 and Xbox One consoles have actually shown that it is not just our own broadband connections that can be a problem, but the farms of servers that operate the PS Plus and Xbox Live networks.

Both of the new machines are making a big show of their use of cloud-based computing, a concept very familiar to the business world but fairly unknown to most consumers. Essentially, it means that much of the heavy lifting for software is now being handled by remote servers rather than the consoles themselves.

With millions of users, this means thousands of servers around the world, and demand for updates and access to online games and media has, at times, pushed services to capacity. In the age of social media, both Sony and Microsoft will quickly suffer the brunt of angry gamers complaining about the problems in real time.

The UK is doing relatively well in terms of home internet access, as the majority of broadband providers upgraded their infrastructure to cope with the surge of traffic expected around the 2012 Olympics.

Of course, that is not to say that no-one will have problems with their broadband connection when trying to download that spur of the moment purchase of Battlefield 4 for their PS4. With the game file standing at 35 GB in size, if your connection is the UK average speed of around 15 Mbps, that will take around five hours.

Worryingly, I actually completed the single player campaign of Battlefield 4 in about the same amount of time it would take to download the game, so digital downloads definitely have some way to go. For those people who want a new game right now and don't want to brave the high street in winter or wait for the delivery, they really should be looking to find a broadband connection around 60 Mbps in speed to bring the download speed to a more reasonable one hour.

Given that pricing for digital game downloads is often the same or more than a physical copy, most people will be heading to an online retailer when they have a sudden impulse to buy something.

The emphasis on internet connections goes beyond downloading and starting a game. The PS4 and Xbox One for example will be increasing the trend of additional downloadable content (DLC) for games, such as extra levels, characters and other bonuses.

We'll also be seeing more of downloadable software patches and bug fixes for games, especially as developers are under pressure to get their games launched quickly and have less time for testing. These fixes often lead to a mandatory 10-20 minute download wait - quite annoying if you only wanted a quick 20 minute game in the first place. The PS4 had a launch day patch download of 300MB, leaving slower internet users with quite a wait before they can start playing.

The good news is that the new generation of consoles have the ability to download large updates in the background. The machines can also continue to download while in standby mode, showing that Sony and Microsoft obviously see slow broadband and long waits as an issue around the world.

Another bit of advice for anyone who has just forked out £350 to £450 on a new console is to turn off the wireless connectivity of the console and connect it to your broadband service directly by an Ethernet cable. Wi-Fi is a great invention, but with so many wireless routers in the wild, the most commonly used 2.4GHz spectrum is very crowded, and even if you can get good speeds you will find latency varies greatly. Poor latency will be particularly annoying for those looking to get online with new titles like Battlefield and Call of Duty as it leads to a lot of delays and lagging.

In theory even a slow (by modern standards) one Mbps ADSL connection will play the latest generation of games perfectly well. However, a lot of people actually have slower connections due to wiring and local interference so take the time to give your broadband connection a good service. Don't hide the ADSL modem behind the TV with all the other audio/video cabling, and try to remove all those telephone extensions that are never used, as both actions will help speed things up.

Even if you have a superfast connection in a shared house there can be times when everyone tries to use the connection to the maximum. Someone trying to use NOW TV to watch Iron Man 3 over Christmas may find their download needs conflicting with someone else downloading updates to the console in the living room, while someone else in another room is trying to play a 64 player multiplayer game.

Just like in years past where a rota had to be sorted out to manage the hot water so no one had to suffer a cold shower, some co-operation may be needed to ensure there aren't too many arguments over who is hogging the broadband connection.

A final hint, if Santa will be bringing a new console to your household this Christmas, it might be worth asking him to download all the patches in advance before wrapping it up, to speed things up and make it easier to play on the big morning.