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World Cup put mobile data networks to the test


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If carriers were wondering how a single major sporting event would affect their mobile data networks, the World Cup this summer provided a good preview. Deep packet inspection vendor Allot Communications (NASDAQ:ALLT) performed an analysis of its global customers` data traffic during the month-long soccer — pardon, football — event in June and July and found traffic levels spiked considerably, not just during the 64 contests themselves, but also in the times in between, as fans used mobile to review and analyze the key moments of the tournament.

Allot found that mobile data traffic overall increased 24% during the matches, which typically lasted two hours each. In the earlier stages of the World Cup three, sometimes four, games were played each day, leading to significantly higher mobile data demand. While you’d expect the majority of that traffic to be live video streaming, Allot found that mobile browsing saw the biggest impact, experiencing a 35% spike while the games were happening.

“The growth in Web browsing occurred continuously in all matches, irrespective of whether the overall bandwidth rose or fell during that specific match,” the Allot Mobile Trends report concluded. “This increase seems likely to stem in part from the dozens of mobile applications available to World Cup fans, providing football- and match-related information in real time, direct to the mobile device. Another reasonable explanation is the World Cup domination of everything social media from Facebook to Twitter, including the list of top tweeted topics during every week of the tournament.”

Video wasn’t ignored by any means. It was merely delayed. Overall video streaming increased only 11% during the games — beat out even by peer-to-peer applications, indicating that relatively few customers were watching the games in real-time on their mobile devices. But in mornings after the matches, streaming on YouTube increased a dramatic 32% and video streaming overall increased 22%, as fans took in the highlights of the previous day’s games, Allot found. 

Because many of the games — depending on time zone, sometimes all of the games — took place during work hours, there was a huge difference in Web and streaming traffic between early and late matches, which in Europe and Africa were held in prime time slots. When most of the viewing public was at home, Web browsing and streaming fell off dramatically, presumably because viewers were planted in front of their TVs, according to Allot.

“The small screen did not replace the big screen during the FIFA 2010 World Cup, but instead created a new category,” the Mobile Trends study found. “Rather than replacing televisions, mobile devices found a niche where they function alongside the big screen, enhancing the viewer experience by offering additional information in real time and providing the ability to watch replays at leisure and share them with friends.”

The U.S. wasn’t the prime market for the World Cup, so U.S. operators’ networks probably weren’t tested as much as their European counterparts. But interest in the quadrennial event did increase considerable, especially during the first two weeks of the tournament when the U.S. National Team was still in contention. Mobile streaming video provider MobiTV reported it delivered more than 88 million minutes of World Cup coverage through July 2, the date of the last semi-final, making it the most-viewed sporting event in the company’s history.

MobiTV powers video streaming services for the four major operators over its ESPN Mobile channel and offers a direct-to-consumer application over smartphones and PCs using both 3G and Wi-Fi network connections. To put the World Cup in perspective, MobiTV streamed 2 billion minutes of video in total in 2009. With 88 million streamed minutes, the World Cup would have accounted for 4.4% of that total.

Qualcomm’s (NASDAQ:QCOM) FLO TV division also saw a big upswing in viewing on its mobile broadcast network. Its MediaFLO technology multicasts, rather than streams, over a 3G network, so no carrier mobile broadband network was impacted. FLO didn’t report total viewers tuned into the World Cup, but it said that total minutes consumed were up 31% in June over May, and average daily consumption reached an all-time peak of 41 minutes for the Mexico-Uruguay match on June 22.


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