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Does the 'Halo 2 effect' threaten broadband?

Traffic monitors claim that online gaming will force ISPs to up their game. BT, though, reckons it's more complicated than that
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor
The rapid growth in online gaming will put pressure on broadband networks to evolve, according to research published this week by Sandvine.

The Internet traffic monitoring company said on Tuesday that Microsoft's Halo II -- a popular first-person shooter -- has boosted traffic on Xbox Live as players rush to compete over the Net.

Sandvine's latest statistics showed that Xbox Live traffic quadrupled when Halo II was launched on 9 November, and has stayed at that level since. Sandvine claims that this will put added pressure on ISPs to improve the quality of their broadband offerings, as users will demand reliability and low latency.

"The explosion in X-Box Live traffic attributed to Halo II should be seen as a clarion call," said Marc Morin, chief technology officer of Sandvine, in a statement.

"ISPs need to enhance the broadband experience for these high-end users by prioritising or reserving bandwidth for games and other kinds of latency-sensitive and feature-rich applications," Morin added.

BT, though, whose network supports most of the UK's ISPs, argues that there are a lot of reasons why an online gaming session might suffer from network disruptions like poor latency.

"It depends where the players are based. A session where four gamers are all based in the UK is likely to have pretty low latency. If one is based in America, one in Australia and one in Brazil then there's more chance of latency because of Internet lag," said a BT spokesman.

ISPs see online gaming as an application that could tempt many people onto broadband, both PC and console users. At present though, according to BT, online gaming makes up only a small proportion of overall Internet traffic -- so the increase caused by Halo II shouldn't have massive implications for telcos.

In the long term, BT's 21st Century Network -- under which it will move from today's legacy equipment to an all-IP infrastructure over the next few years -- could make UK a world leader for online gaming.

"The 21st Century Network will hopefully mean there will be much less latency for gamers," said the BT spokesman.

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