New Xbox Launch Causes Record-Setting Spike in ISP Traffic

New Xbox Launch Causes Record-Setting Spike in ISP Traffic
Xbox launches the Xbox Series X in the UK with a holographic installation on November 7, 2020, in London. (Photo: Ian Gavan, Getty Images)

Since we got our first look at the new generation of video game consoles, the most prominent topic of discussion has been the fact that both the Xbox Series X and PS5 are gigantic. The shock of the consoles’ physical appearance made it easy to forget that the next generation’s biggest footprint will be on the intertubes.

Internet providers in the UK said this week that Microsoft’s launch of its latest Xbox on Tuesday led to a crush in network traffic as users unboxed their consoles, downloaded system updates, and installed new games. Virgin Media said in a statement that it experienced the highest amount of data consumption on its network in history, on Tuesday — an increase of 30% over its average traffic in October. In total, Virgin said, 108 petabytes of data, an average of 20GB per customer, was served on launch day.

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Likewise, TalkTalk said that it “recorded its highest ever peak in network traffic” on Tuesday. Openreach told the Independent that its network was hit hard by the Xbox launch but it did not set a personal traffic record.

The new Xbox wasn’t the only thing sucking up data at incredible rates. Openreach also cited the release of a forced software update on iOS as being responsible for high levels of activity. And Virgin pointed to the release of new cross-console blockbuster games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and the pre-download of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War as an issue.

One difficult day for ISPs is no big deal, but it’s a sign that networks could struggle to keep up in the coming months. Virgin said it “anticipates another busy week of network traffic ahead,” with the launch of Sony’s PS5. Both consoles are already available in the United States... if you can find one. The fact that availability is currently limited could be a blessing.

The size of video game files was already getting out of control before this new generation launched. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare ballooned to more than 250GB as it gradually added on more-and-more updates. Black Ops, the latest entry in the Call of Duty franchise, hits 250 gigs right out of the box.

The integration of high-speed SSD drives also means that developers have less to worry about when it comes to loading large in-game assets, meaning developers’ imaginations will be more restricted by the size of an average hard drive than they are by the new consoles’ power limitations. That means huge updates will be flying around at an unprecedented pace, and we’ve barely even entered the era of game streaming services like Google Stadia.

When the first wave of covid-19 sent people indoors last March, there were worries that networks could be strained by the influx of online users who would normally be living their IRL lives for most of the day. For the most part, ISPs were fine. Now, epidemiologists are warning that the latest wave of infections will be even more devastating than the last and it will require further quarantines. TalkTalk said in its statement that just last week it had seen some of its highest network traffic ever when the UK entered its second lockdown.

Our extremely online lives are getting more extremely online, and the technical specs required to keep it up are getting more intensive. Real 5G can’t come soon enough.