Xbox and Call of Duty cause record broadband data use in UK

By Leo Kelion
Technology desk editor

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The Xbox Series X and Series S consoles were released to the public on Tuesday

The UK's leading internet providers have experienced record broadband use as a result of new Xbox consoles and fresh releases to the Call of Duty games franchise.

BT, Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk, Vodafone, City Fibre and Zen Internet said they had all coped with the spike in demand on Tuesday.

Much of the activity was generated by video gamers downloading large files.

Some people will have experienced slower speeds as a consequence.

The internet service providers will be tested again on 19 November when the PlayStation 5 comes to the UK.

Factors that may have fed in to Tuesday's figures include:

  • Activision releasing updates to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Warzone that ranged up to 65 gigabytes in size
  • pre-loads of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War of up to 130GB, which launches on Friday
  • an update to Bungie's video game Destiny 2 that was about 65GB, as well as a live event inside the title
  • the release of Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed Valhalla, which was 60GB. Even if users bought the game in disc form, they still faced downloading an 8GB "day one update"
  • various security updates and bug fixes from Microsoft, as part of it regular monthly "patch Tuesday" release
Image source, Activision
Image caption,
Call of Duty downloads have been linked to previous record days for the UK's internet providers

Download dependent

BT said broadband traffic peaked at 18 terabits per second (Tbps) - equivalent to delivering about 1,510 hours of high-definition video every second.

That compared with the previous record of 17.5Tbps it reported on an evening when it had experienced high demand for both streaming football and video games.

"This is comfortably within the network's capacity," said a spokeswoman.

Virgin Media said 108 petabytes of data were consumed via its network - 1PB is equivalent to one billion megabytes (MB) or one million gigabytes (GB).

It said this was 30% higher than its average figure last month. Its previous busiest day was in June, when Call of Duty: Warzone's Season 4 launched.

"Keeping the country connected throughout the Covid-19 pandemic remains a top priority, and we anticipate another busy weekend with the streaming of the Autumn Nations Cup," said Jeanie York the firm's chief technology and information officer.

TalkTalk said its network traffic spiked at 6.8Tbps.

"It appears that our appetite for data is showing no signs of slowing down during this second lockdown," commented Gary Steen, managing director of technology at the firm.

Image source, Ubisoft
Image caption,
Assassin's Creed Valhalla - like many other games - comes with a day one patch to allow developers to provide additional fixes to the version burned to disc

Zen Internet said its equivalent figure was 11.6% higher than its previous peak, which occurred in October.

"We're looking forward to the PlayStation launch next week - although we cannot accurately predict it, we anticipate the traffic on our network to be higher again," said chief executive Paul Stobart.

City Fibre said Tuesday had been a record day for it too, but added that Wednesday had been even busier as gamers and others continued their downloads.

"We are now having almost daily reminders about the nation's increased reliance on connectivity," said a spokesman.

"Whether that's people playing online with next generation consoles, streaming content, or working from home, demand for capacity is sky-rocketing."

Vodafone said Tuesday's peak had been 8% higher than its previous record, which was the Champions League final on 23 August.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
The PlayStation 5 has already launched in some parts of the world, but does not come to the UK until next week

Sky said it observed a traffic surge of 16.6Tbps at its highest peak, setting a new record for its network. Its usual usage peak for a Tuesday is about 14Tbps.

The BBC also asked KCom and the Post Office to share their figures.

Openreach - which provides the network infrastructure to many of the UK's internet service providers - said its traffic had been high but not quite record-breaking.

It told the BBC that 174PB of data was consumed on Tuesday versus a figure of 193PB on 5 August, which was when season five of Call of Duty: Warzone and Modern Warfare went live.

"This far exceeds what we'd consider a normal Tuesday," added Colin Lees, chief technology innovation officer at Openreach.

"We're also expecting to see another jump in traffic with the upcoming release of the PS5."