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Virgin Media makes gaming play with 200 Mbps broadband offer

Man in glasses and laptop. Effect of the glow of the screen

The popularity of online gaming, combined with an increasing amount of gamers choosing to purchase new titles digitally, has seen Virgin Media launch a new 200 Mbps service dedicated to online gamers.

The growth in online gaming, eSports and video game live broadcasting is one of the biggest market changes for domestic ISPs across the world today. According to recent figures from the Interactive Software Federation of Europe, 40% of UK citizens aged between 6 and 64 – 18.8 million – play any time of video game, a figure which rises to 56% of 6 to 44 year olds.

22% of the UK demographic specifically play online games, roughly 10.6 million people, with an additional 24% saying they play packaged games (i.e. needing a physical disk), most of which today have some sort of online element.

Ofcom figures from late 2015 confirm the average download speed for UK households, which currently sits at 28.9 Mbps with 2016’s figures yet to be released. With an increasing amount of gamers downloading titles from the Sony, Microsoft or Steam platforms, we can assume the average size of a video game is roughly 55 GB. Downloading a 55 GB game on a 28.9 Mbps connection would take 4 hours and 32 minutes, which in today’s digital era of instant gratification is just unthinkable.

Working on Virgin’s speeds of 200 Mbps download, you’d be looking at a complete download within 40 minutes – the perfect amount of time to stock up on a multipack of Doritos and a couple of bottles of Diet Coke (or something stronger) for a marathon sesh.

It’s commonly accepted that a steady internet connection is more important for online gaming than raw download speed. For online competitors, latency can be the real killer as split second, game-winning moments can be missed if the slightest bit of lag affects gameplay. With that in mind, upload speed is widely considered to be as important as download speed. Virgin’s latest offering tailored for gamers will introduce a significant 20 Mbps upload speed to help stabilise latency and reduce lag in the online arena.

Meanwhile, game-casters and live gaming streamers on platforms like YouTube or Twitch are rapidly becoming phenomenally popular – so much so that Google decided to launch a dedicated gaming portal to YouTube. Obviously that’s called YouTube Gaming. On Twitch alone last year users streamed 241 billion minutes of live video, which it points out is about 459,000 years’ worth at a rate of 20 billion minutes of video per month, up 25% on 2014.

A source close to Telecoms.com explained the networking elements in play with Virgin’s ambitions to tap into the gaming community.

“Video games are not so bandwidth intensive because a lot of the data is already installed as part of the game package,” said our mystery insider. “The only thing you need to do is convey changes in the environment, like moving your character or shooting a bad guy. It doesn’t take a lot of data, but it needs to be as low latency as possible with the highest upload speed.

“Quality of Service plays a big part of it, and this allows the network to tag packets based on their function – so network admins can tag a packet and say ‘this is a gaming packet’. So presumably Virgin network administrators will be prioritising gaming packets and sending those before sending HTTPs web traffic. Not many people care if a web page takes 2 or 3 seconds to load up, but with gaming it’s about milliseconds. So it’s either that approach, or they’ve created an isolated network for it.”

Virgin will be launching the Vivid 200 Gamer service on 1st September, which will cost an additional £5 on top of its existing Vivid 200 tariff. The £5 bolt-on will basically provide additional upload capacity to minimise latency and optimise user-connectivity to game servers.


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