A report by Canadian company Sandvine called “Netflix Rising” shows that Netflix streaming via video game consoles takes up more bandwidth than any other type of internet traffic in North America. According to the report (viewable below via Scribd), in terms of total traffic, Netflix takes up 24.71% of all bandwidth used, followed by Bittorrent (17.23%), HTTP/standard web traffic (17.18%), Youtube (9.85%) and Flash video (3.62%). Taking out upstream traffic (of which Bittorrent is over half, due to the nature of the protocol), Netflix raises to 29.70% of all downstream (meaning, what a consumer downloads) traffic, ahead of HTTP traffic (18.36%). In a prior report in October of 2010, Sandvine showed that downstream peak traffic accounted for just over 20% of downtime traffic.
Digging deeper into the numbers, it shows that the bandwidth consumption of someone using the service on an Xbox 360 is almost twice that of a “typical” Netflix subscriber, consuming as much as 2.5GB of data per day as opposed to about 1.2GB. The report also goes into details about how Netflix has been affected by stringent data caps in Canada, and that after a letter sent out by Netflix explaining changes to stream compression and default settings, Netflix usage in Canada dropped from 13.5% of data in Canada to 5.7%.
Game consoles are the biggest users of streaming Netflix traffic, accounting for 66.26% of streaming. The PlayStation 3 user is the heaviest consumer, using 30.57% of Netflix traffic being trailed by the Xbox 360 (24.94%), PC (19.55%) and Wii (10.75%). This, despite household penetration of games consoles being around 11%, and about 33% of Xbox consoles being used for Netflix.
Sandvine is a company that that specializes in helping ISPs maximize profitability through traffic optimization while improving the experience for last-mile consumers.
Analysis: First off, it should be noted that Sandvine’s business model is helping data providers maximize the money they make. Therefore, they have a horse in this race, and the whole purpose of their report is so that they can 1) advertise their business and 2) show ISPs that they can optimize their traffic. I also have some questions as to how they got their data, and just how encompassing their data is.
With that said, this is going to add fuel to what is already a highly contentious issue in North America. AT+T recently slapped a large portion of their customers with a 150GB data cap, with 250GB of data being allowed to UVerse customers, of whose data doesn’t count against the cap. This is in direct violation of Network Neutrality principles, principles that the FCC effectively punted on. This also comes almost a half year after Level 3 accused Comcast – who holds their users to a 250GB cap – of upping charges on their Netflix traffic going across Comcast backbones. It’s even worse in Canada, where data caps are typically around 20 to 50GB and who are effectively in a duopoly between Rogers and Bell, with smaller companies having to buy data backbone through them. In America, most customers are limited to few – if any – options due to government contracts offering selective monopolies in local areas.
It’s a horrible system for consumers that is only looking to get worse. AT+T has been careful to tread the PR line, making sure to note that only 2% of customers are affected by their caps and that they send out warning notices to anyone coming close to the cap. However, their intentions, by making UVerse data and video exempt, are exposed: they want people to be forced into their network. There is nothing stopping companies from dropping caps to Canadian levels should they so choose, nor is there incentive for Canadian companies to raise or eliminate their caps. Who cares if people are happy with your service? They’re locked in. It’s almost guaranteed money. Let them bitch all the want on their blogs, especially when the ISPs are being paid for the rights to transfer that data.
For gamers in the modern age, this is going to become a significant problem. Games on Demand on the 360 can run up to 6GB. Some PlayStation games such as Record of Agarest War are as much as 10GB. Add to that the data that comes from playing games online, as well as other video and music options being made available for consoles such as the Zune and PlayStation Store marketplaces, the NHL GameCenter app, ESPN3, MLB.tv and others, means that video game consoles are going to be a massive drain on data caps that will likely not raise with demand unless it’s advantageous to ISPs who will have no incentive to cater to out-of-network providers. Data caps are already chilling consumers – I can’t link anything to my mother, for example, without her complaining about how it’s going to affect a data cap she’s never come close to hitting – and it’s only going to get more prevalent, especially as console penetration and the data demands from those consoles increases.