World Cup is an internet sensation – but bosses may not be cheering

8 Jul 2010

By Sunday night it will be all over and the winning country in World Cup 2010 will be celebrating.

But those who may not be celebrating will be bosses and IT managers, as they count the costs of the last three weeks’ footie pleasure enjoyed by workers who watched video streaming of matches, replays and analysis, clogging up networks and costing hours and euro of productivity.

A recent survey of IT professionals in the UK by Blue Coat Systems found that 54pc of IT professionals believe employees should be banned from watching matches at work. Blue Coat points out that watching live matches could prevent an employer’s network from performing important business functions, as a majority of companies admit to having no policies (65pc) or technology (59pc) in place to
prioritise vital business applications and ensure the most efficient delivery of video streaming.

World Cup networks experiment

Its distributor in Ireland, DataSolutions, undertook an internal experiment to test the impact of the World Cup on corporate networks. DataSolutions would be representative of many Irish businesses with between 15 and 20 employees and a standard DSL internet connection of 2Mbps.

DataSolutions undertook an experiment to see the impact on the network capacity of one employee watching a live video stream during the day. It reduced network capacity by 60pc.

“What we tell MDs and IT managers to do is not ban this activity, just understand what is going on and control it,” says Michael Keating of DataSolutions.

“There are technologies available that allow business owners to ensure critical business applications like accounts, e-commerce or ERP aren’t affected because you can allot your available bandwidth, give business applications priority and still allow people to social
network and consume not-to-be-missed events.”

It’s predicted video-based applications will account for more than 80pc of all internet activity in less than three years. With the increasing use of video conferencing, business conducted via Webex and people attending/holding webinars to sell products or provide training, it is already happening.

Irish SMEs with typically poor broadband connections of just 2Mbps will be woefully underprepared for this data tsunami.

Keating says packet-shaping technologies can be deployed to any business’ network inexpensively.

“Businesses need to understand what is on their network and give priority to types of traffic they need and be able to switch on the fly. Your sales team may be attending a webinar or you want to allow staff to enjoy key events. Today, it’s the World Cup, later it will be ‘X
Factor’ and no doubt all eyes will be on the Budget.

“The key is to manage your data connection without it affecting your core business. Some companies won’t allow staff to do personal surfing while others encourage the use of Facebook. But many MDs would be surprised by the kind of activity taking place on the
company network, and they’re the ones paying for it. They’ll be paying more if customers couldn’t transact or a key sales deal was scuppered because of poor data rates.”

Loss in productivity

He says the other problem is lost productivity. With more than 450,000 office workers in Ireland paid an average white-collar wage of €25 per hour, Keating explains: “We reckon that if a quarter of those workers spent an hour and a half watching matches it would cost
the economy between €40m to €50m a game. That’s one reason bosses are glad we didn’t make the World Cup this time.”

Despite this, the World Cup has been a total internet success. As we move deeper into the mobile web era, ISPs and mobile operators should be rubbing their hands in glee as more users watch content on mobile devices.

According to Screen Digest, new-found enthusiasm for soccer fuelled by the US team’s performance in the World Cup helped kick off the US market for video services on mobile phones, spurring a 12.7pc increase in subscriptions in 2010.

Says Ronan de Renesse, senior analyst at Screen Digest: “This enthusiasm has extended into the mobile realm, where sports fans are eagerly following the action on their smartphones and other wireless devices. The main reason why mobile video is so appealing for viewing World Cup events is that many of the games take place during the US work day. The ubiquity of mobile video also makes it
perfectly suited to capture the US audience that is unable to watch the games at home.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years