World Cup versus the Internet

As the World Cup enters the knock out phase, a quick look at the impact of the games on the Internet infrastructure.

In particular, will millions of office workers (lacking television access during office hours) drive an overwhelming flood of desktop video and disrupt Internet communication? Has the Internet finally met its match in the World Cup?

You might think so given the hundreds of press articles predicting cataclysmic World Cup Internet doom. My favorite (from this week’s Sunday Scotland Herald):


But so far, fears of overwhelmed backbones and Internet interruptions appear unfounded. We’ll look at some specific numbers below using anonymous traffic engineering statistics from ISPs participating in the ATLAS Internet Observatory.

Overall, we estimate a 30% increase in backbone traffic due to World Cup video — sizable, but not overwhelming. In a few instances, the World Cup even lead to decreases in Internet traffic as millions of consumers paused their Web surfing to watch the post business day games on television.

Though some secondary online services (e.g. Twitter) fared less well with periodic outages. In particular, Twitter fell victim to massive “tweetstorms” topping 3,000 World Cup messages per second.

Despite some reports of slow access to sports web sites (e.g. ESPN), anecdotal discussions with providers suggests video quality has been high in the US and UK via the primary video distributors of ESPN3 and the BBC iPlayer (both using Akamai).

Akamai and BBC have reported record numbers topping 800,000 concurrent connections. The high stakes bragging rights for the record to the world’s largest Internet video event has even lead to a war of words between ESPN and CBS (ESPN claims the World Cup as the world’s largest Internet event and CBS argues for the 1.15 million visitors viewing Brigham Young / Florida game).

While many providers restricted live World Cup Internet video to paying customers (e.g. ESPN) or geographic region (e.g. BBC and CBC), Univision (also using Akamai) provided a popular (and colorful) free global feed. Fans also had multiple other commercial options depending on their geographic region plus dozens of “underground” video streaming sites.

In the first graph below, we look at ATLAS data during the first week of the World Cup. In particular, we compare inter-domain Flash traffic between June 11 and 18 in blue with Flash traffic averaged over “normal” (i.e. not World Cup) weeks in green. Both datasets use traffic from 55 randomly selected ISPs in Europe and Americas. We note that these inter-domain measurements do not include local cache traffic.

World Cup Video Traffic

The largest increase in Flash traffic came on Thursday June 15th with video peaks more than doubling from an average of 400 Gbps to 1 Tbps. The jumps in June 15 traffic seems to correlate with interest in the Brazil and North Korea match (ending 2 – 1).

The next graph looks at Flash traffic for a particular day, June 23. The ESPN3 schedule began with 9:30am EDT Slovenia vs. England and USA vs. Algeria C followed by Ghana vs. Germany and Australia vs. Serbia at 2pm EDT. All times in the graph are EDT.

June 23 Flash Traffic

Again, Flash more than doubled during each of the game periods.

But in the scheme of things, Flash comprises a small percentage of Internet traffic and overall inter-domain bandwidth did not exhibit dramatic gains during the World Cup (i.e. unlike Internet traffic during the Obama inauguration).

The below graph shows both Flash (in purple) and Web (TCP port 80) traffic across 55 randomly selected ISPs on June 23. Web traffic possibly shows modest decreases during the peaks of World Cup coverage.

Comparing June 23 Web and Flash Traffic

In fairness, inter-domain traffic provides only a limited measure of World Cup video. For example, local caches serve most of Akamai’s CDN video traffic. While ATLAS anonymous statistics generally do not include this local traffic, many ISPs carefully monitor local Akamai server bandwidth. Three consumer providers graciously provided statistics on both their local Akamai cache and inter-domain Akamai traffic.

We graph the Akamai cache (in blue) and inter-domain (in red) traffic below for the three providers between June 11 and 18.


Interestingly, the cache traffic remains mostly constant during the first World Cup week. Only inter-domain (presumably HD streaming) exhibits a significant ~25% jump during the games.

So far the Internet has survived, but with the final games coming up we expect far greater consumer interest and even larger traffic volumes. As the Scotland Herald warns, the match up between the Internet and its World Cup nemesis is far from over…




2 Responses to “World Cup versus the Internet”

June 28, 2010 at 12:41 pm, kieran said:

BBC use Akamai, Limelight and Level3.

July 19, 2010 at 6:06 am, Congestion Lessons from the World Cup : Alissa Cooper said:

[…] focus there as well. I recently came across a number of different vendor reports and musings (from Arbor, Allot, and Sandvine) about the impact of World Cup viewing on the Internet, and they got me […]

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