Rory Cellan-Jones

A big match for Broadband Britain

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 7 Oct 09, 09:02 GMT

It's got thousands of football fans enraged, and set off countless pub conversations about our changing national game and the attitudes of those who run it. But the decision to allow live viewing of Saturday's Ukraine v England game to take place solely online will serve one useful purpose. It could provide an excellent snapshot of the state of Broadband Britain.

Wayne RooneyWhy? Because at 1700 on Saturday as many as a million people will be online for what should be the UK's single biggest live-streaming event so far. And that will mean four key questions about Britain's broadband performance could be answered.

Question One: Can our infrastructure take it?

Remember the fuss made by some internet service providers about the strain on their infrastructure caused by the launch of the BBC iPlayer? Well now are they going to have to cope with the far greater challenge of a million concurrent streams of live football.

Just as the National Grid used to have extra power stations on standby for half-time in a World Cup game, when the nation would put the kettle on, will leading ISPs have their chief engineers at work on Saturday evening shouting,"She cannae take it, Captain?"

Question Two: Are we fast enough?

Watching streaming video is generally accepted to need an internet connection of at least 2Mbps - the same speed that the Digital Britain report is promising as a right for just about every household in the country. But will fans across the country be chucking things at the laptop when the image freezes just as Wayne Rooney draws back his right foot to shoot?

We should find out just how many people do have a broadband connection fast enough to make live video an acceptable experience. And don't forget that millions of people experience "throttling" at peak times which, in the case of BT's basic broadband package, makes web video a no-no.

Question Three: Will We Pay?

Every media company in the world is trying to work out whether consumers will pay for compelling online content. And by Saturday evening we will know whether Perform and Kentaro, the companies behind the football stream, have got their strategy right. They're asking a minimum of £4.99, rising to £11.99 on match day for the right to watch online. That seems a lot for an experience that could be a lot less satisfactory than popping down to the pub to watch it for nothing.

Question Four: Will we find another way?

Ah but it won't be available in the pub - or will it? Expect lots of people to find ways of watching the football on something better than a small computer screen. What's to stop your local hiring a projector and beaming the stream from a laptop onto a wall? Looking through the complex terms and conditions on the streaming site, pub projection doesn't seem to be banned - as long as the landlord doesn't charge the customers. Whether the quality of the picture will stand up to a big screen is another matter. But the race to move internet video from the PC to the TV is on - and Saturday's match will encourage more experimentation.

So the Ukraine v England game matters little for our footballing future - but it could prove just how advanced we are when it comes to competing in the global broadband league.


  • Comment number 1.

    Not a hope in hell for rural people to watch this match. Even people with good connections will struggle because of contention in the obsolete phone exchanges. Shame it isn't an important match and then we would get a taste of what is gonna happen at the olympics. Bit of a wake up call for building a digitalbritain that works if you ask me.
    But nobody does. They ask Ofcom, who still insist that over 99% of the uk is connected to a DSL enabled exchange. ROFL. Connected with a phone they may be, but not to broadband. And Next Gen access will be a long time coming as the telcos continue to milk the copper assets instead of replacing with fibre. Time to nationalise and build the future for the next gen of kids, and to put the UK in the forefront and not in the slow lane. Break the copper cabal and sack the quangos. JFDI. You know it makes sense.

  • Comment number 2.

    The lowest bit rate video they are offering is 250Kilo bits per second, which should run on a good 0.5Meg based service.

    Alas providers budget for each user using around 30 to 100Kbps at peak times. The higher the figure the more expensive to provide.

    The services worst affected are likely to be the very cheap, or ones with 'unlimited' in the sales blurb, as they often try and squeeze more people onto their capacity.

    If going to sign up, check that the test stream works well at around 8 to 10pm in the evening before parting with cash.

    The national infrastructure should be able to cope assuming that deals have been done with the major content cache providers, but the architecture of the connection between providers and the consumer will be the area of greatest possibly congestion.

  • Comment number 3.

    If being advanced in the global broadband league means paying £4.99 to view something online that's normally available for nothing on television, then I'm rather happy to lag behind.

  • Comment number 4.

    A shame I'm going to be missing this historical event by watching a band on Saturday night, but even if I was at home, I wouldn't be watching the football on the internet.

  • Comment number 5.

    You really think a million people are going to watch this meaningless game for £5-12?

    To be honest, I laughed when they said they would 'stop' at a million.

  • Comment number 6.

    £5-£12 for a connection that you know is gonna freeze and splutter its way through the game, picture quality will be VHS quality at best too. I could understand if the Football League tried to stream some games for cash to get a little more revenue for the smaller clubs and i'm sure that will happen eventually but to expect 1m+ people to logon at the same time when they have already parted with cash? Lets just say i'm glad i'm not working for Kentaro customer services on Saturday night.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    Never mind any of that. Does it work with Linux?

  • Comment number 9.

    Roary, I believe you have missed a chunk of the arguement. Hs the company explained how it is going to guarantee up to 1mm concurrent connections? This is not a simple piece of architecture which even the internet giants struggle with (just ask your website team how they manage when a large event occurs which drives BBC traffic).

    Is there any minimum guarantee in the contract to actually allow me to watch the game uninterrupted? Unless there I for 1 will not be paying

  • Comment number 10.

    This leads to an interesting question- how much of our upgrading is from the current criminal trend of stealing copper cable (it sells at price making it more than worth their time!) and how much is actually due to any loyalty to improving their customers service. All I'll say is since someone stripped us locally, my connection has gone from 2mbit to about 8.

    I'm not encouraging civil disobedience, but it appears to have sorted me out!

  • Comment number 11.

    I don't think that they will have the problem of a million people trying to watch it...

  • Comment number 12.

    It's a good idea in theory, broadcasting online only, however I don't think it's going to work, there are people still on dial up now. I'm not a huge football fan, even if I were I would not fork out the £4.99/£11.99 to watch the game. My internet connection struggles at the best of times, imagine the buffering at crucial moments during the game.

    How much thinking did the 2 companies put into this idea?

  • Comment number 13.

    Am I the only one who's tempted to start downloading as much as possible to throttle other peoples speed on their street?

  • Comment number 14.

    For what is a pretty meaningless game £5-£12 is awful. I know streaming costs are relatively high but the whole idea is flawed. Most people still don't have there computers connected (or integrated) to their TV's and watching sport is mainly a group thing, hence the popularity in pubs. The average computer screen size is 15-17inch, how many people are going to cram round a small screen to watch what will probably be a badly pixelated experience. Until computers are properly integrated into TV's, or they replace TV's this venture has failure written all over it

  • Comment number 15.

    The question I have is that is there a million fools in England who will pay for this disgrace?
    Looking at the number of Sun readers I am afraid the answer is yes.
    Shame on the Media who are actually suporting this fiasco, I hope the BBC and the decent newspapers manage to put across just how upset a lot of us are.

  • Comment number 16.

    I am a big footie fan and have a very good broadband service from my provider. However, I didn't pay a substancial amount for a 40" flat screen TV, additional sports packages from my satellite provider to pay a third party to watch a substandard screening of a football match on a 17" monitor.

  • Comment number 17.

    Thanks for covering this, it should be a good stress test, a terabit per second for 2 hours, more than the capacity of Linx.

    Our best effort broadband was engineered around web pages. The hidden and mysterious planning rules point to about 30Kbps per user, so a 800Kbps will be interesting.

    I expect British engineers will love making it work if they can.

  • Comment number 18.

    I tried watching Scotland's second-last qualifier against Macedonia online. I was off to the pub to watch it after about 5 minutes, such was the awful quality of the stream and the unfulfilling experience of watching it on a little screen.

    Even if you're by yourself, in a crowded pub, straining to get a good look at the big screen, it beats watching football online by miles. The iPlayer may show there is an appetite in general for online TV, but I can't imagine many people go to the pub to watch Eastenders.

  • Comment number 19.

    Yeah cause people are really going to gather round a tiny screen, spilling their booze all over expensive equipment to watch this match at £4.99 a pop.

    Best bet is for (us) geeks to help their pubs to screen it. Web video demographic #fail.

  • Comment number 20.

    Does it work with Linux? - yes, well at least the test site works at both resolutions in Firefox on Xubuntu. It's flash based so should be fine on most platforms - no downloads involved.

    LOL @ cyberdoyle

  • Comment number 21.

    Pointless article to be honest. Sports have been streamed for the internet for many years. There are so many illegal streams to watch premier league football, and in fact any game you want from just about any sport televised in the world, or even horse racing. I understand this is the first time we are being charged to watch an england match on a computer, but streaming in general has been on our computers for a while now. Anyone with a broadband connections can watch a football game from start to finsih with very little buffering or even none at at all providing you find a good stream. As the days goes on the streams will become even higher quality with better picture and sound. Some people believe that BSkyB 's most recent deal to televise the english premier league, will be their last as the modern world of free streaming on computers will dominate the market. Of course its nice to watch a game on t.v, but alot of people, especially in this recession find it diffcult to pay for sattelite tv, nevermind individual games on your computer.

  • Comment number 22.

    I just tested the video on my 24" monitor. Quality is complete garbage. The ball is so pixelated you can't make out where it is.

    And for £4.99 I'd be expecting H.264 or something similar. This is just quite sad really.

    I might wait until match day and pay over 100% more...

  • Comment number 23.

    I think the big issue here is that people are expected to pay upwards of £5 to watch something that will be low in picture quality for the most part, when it should be free for all on television.

    I don't care if businesses think the world is changing, we got on all right in the past by having national sports broadcast on national free to air television, there is no reason why we cannot continue to do the same.

    Oh wait what am I saying, I must remember capitalist greed is every reason why we should not continue to do the same as we have previously done in the past and why events such as this end up being available for the minority.

  • Comment number 24.

    I suppose I should admit at the outset that I wouldn't watch football on the internet even if someone offered to pay *me* to do it, although if the sum was big enough I might just change my mind. For the record, I don't watch it on proper television either.

    That said, I am at a loss to understand any real difference between this event and other subscription services; you want it so you pay for it. I know there is a slight difference in this case because of Setanta's demise, but the principle holds nonetheless. Unless, of course, someone can put up a cogent contrary argument.

    The spread of the internet and the growing number of services available on it appear to have been accompanied by a growing belief that everything must somehow be "free"; the logic of that (if there indeed is any) escapes me.

    But it will indeed be interesting to see (a) how many people stump up the money, and (b) how well the networks cope. It may just be that if many are glued to this match that overall demand for bandwidth actually drops, and contention problems turn out to be less serious than they are normally.

    Even more interesting might be (c) where subscribers pay up in good faith but find that their computers spend a lot of time buffering and/or the overall quality is demonstrably poor. Has anyone thus affected any claim that they did not get what they paid for in that the product delivered was manifestly "not fit for purpose", and if so against whom do they make a claim for reimbursement? I detect a messy contractual situation in the making.

  • Comment number 25.

    @24 - I have a cogent contrary argument.

    We already have to pay a TV tax, why should we then have to pay more to view something that should be on TV and covered by that tax?

    Even if this was being shown on Sky why should anyone have to pay the TV tax and then have to pay again for what they wish to watch.

    You may not be a TV fan but I'd lay money on you being the first to complain if something you currently watch for very little on terrestrial TV went pay per view, the shoe being on the other foot and all that.

    The argument against paying to watch this match is not that people want it for free or have the belief that it should be free, but simply that in times past it would have been free to watch, or as near as when you take into account the usual TV tax but now we are expected to pay more for it just because business has dictated to us that they expect us to.

    I myself watch very little on TV and I don't feel the licence fee that I pay is justified for what I do watch, given that others get more out of their licence fee, if they like soaps, talent shows and the usual dross we get on terrestrial TV here in the UK.

    The problem with all things like this is we as a society sit and swallow it wholesale and don't actually think about it. We just blindly buy it because it's the only way presented to us.

    And another thing, with this match being streamed on the internet you can't gather down the pub like you would any other match and watch it on a big screen with your mates and enjoy a few drinks, responsibly.

  • Comment number 26.

    just a really bad idea and i hope it fails and i hope the company that is showing it goes bankrupt. i wont be seeing this game for 3 reasons and i suspect im in the majority.

    1. my broadband isnt up to it in a million years.
    2. i refuse to pay £5-12 during a recession for an inferior product to what is normally shown for free on tv.
    3. football on tv is meant to be enjoyed by the family and watched together, 4 people sitting around a laptop isnt my idea of a good time.

  • Comment number 27.

    People who say "I don't want to be sitting around my computer/laptop!" might not realise that most laptops have a VGA/DVI/HDMI-out port and many desktops do too, so you can connect them up to your massive TV and watch content as you normally would enjoy.

  • Comment number 28.

    For me, there isn't really an argument about the price - i love to watch England and reluctantly would pay to watch it on TV. England games should be on BBC and free for the nation to watch - but because of greed they aren't. People / companies trying to charge us for doing next to nothing isn't a new thing and wont stop any time soon...
    But... I definatley will not be watching on the internet. I am not prepared to sit at my computer for 2 hours to watch a football match, simple as that. I don't and won't watch movies on my computer either - i get a DVD and watch it on the TV - where i am comfortable and enjoy the experience. Watching a movie - or the football in this case would not be enjoyable and frankly sub-standard. I'll wait for the highlights to be show and watch then...

    Lets wait until this idea bombs out and England are back on the TV again!

    Of course the comapany will claim that the 1 million people are already signed up and the whole experience was a roaring success - DON'T LISTEN - It's a lie, and i think we all know that the idea of watching football live on the internet will fail miserably - but we will keep being told how well it has done.

  • Comment number 29.

    @ fabchevtherev:

    Yes there has been football on live streams before, but not an England game, and not when it's not available anywhere else.

    I have watched England on the ITV website when they have shown the game live on the telly. So I watched it online whilst browsing, and wife watched the soaps... Anyway, the picture quality was often poor, and buffered more than I was happy with. I live in a non fibre optic area, and am limited to 8meg broadband. If the quality was that bad when it was live on the telly, how bad will it be when it's your only option?

  • Comment number 30.

    There are many websites out there where you can stream the match for free AND with the same poor jerky quality. Too many internet users have too slow internet connection and/or a download limit to be able to stream video. I hope this experiment fails big time and that the FA stop being greedy and give rights back to free-to-view tv.

  • Comment number 31.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 32.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 33.

    Football attracting million people online sounds great. We need a better technology for that. Oh Yes we have Computers,larger screen Televisions,Digital surround,Broadband and a great atmosphere in home & pubs to watch that. But what about Broadband speed? In the eyes of Broadband nothing matters but the speed. We are going at a slow pace in the world Broadband rankings. Ofcom provides statistics that the average speed of UK Broadband is 3.6 Mbps but its only theoritical.Practically users get an average speed of around 2 to 2.5 Mbps and its very small compared to the maximum average speed of 4.3 Mb in UK which is still less than the World's average Broadband speed of 4.75 Mb.The main reason for lower speeds is that the Broadband connection in UK is dependent on DSL & Cable wires while the others countries have already moved to Fibre Optic Cables. While UK move towards Fibre Optics, they will be heading towards the next technology making us lagging behind. The govt must regulate policies and fix a target to switch to Fibre Optics rapidly thereby giving Cheap Broadband to the people to increase the no of users. In rural areas Mobile or satellite Broadband can be deployed.Then we can expect the entire UK to be online for the Football matches


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