Xbox One has now been unleashed upon the United Kingdom. And although we're pretty sure the people of this tiny island will be ready for the all-nighters and sibling squabbling that'll ensue, what's far less certain is whether or not the UK's eclectic broadband infrastructure is up to the challenge.
Internet is at the heart of many of the features that make the Xbox One great -- digital game downloads, multiplayer gaming, and all those fancy streaming TV services. They all place different kinds of demands on the broadband infrastructure here, demands that it's not entirely sure the creaking backbone of the network are up to.
But, before concerning ourselves with whether the average internet connection will be up to scratch, there's a more important question: how many people in the UK actually have sweet, sweet internet piped into their homes? The answer, according to telecoms regulator Ofcom, is that 80 per cent of British households have a home internet connection.
That number's not too shabby -- the USA is only on 72 per cent, for example, and the EU average is 78 per cent. Mind you, it's not a patch on the Scandinavians -- in Norway, home internet access is at 94 per cent and climbing, as the current government believes home internet access should be a 'basic right'.
But, more than just the raw numbers, what sort of connections are these? Sadly, of the people who have a home internet connection, a full 10 per cent or so don't exactly have a connection suited to the Xbox One's most basic task: playing games.
In order to play multiplayer games online with any decent chance of not constantly getting killed by a twerpy 12-year-old, you need a connection that's responsive and reliable. At the bare minimum, that's going to need to be a cabled broadband connection -- mobile broadband dongles, whilst clever and all, still often have ping times in the hundreds of milliseconds, which is far too slow for gaming. (The ping time, by the way, is the amount of time it takes a signal to travel from your computer, to the game server, then back to your computer. A high ping means bad lag and poor kill/death ratio.)
Worse, mobile broadband connections tend to be fickle beasts. Connection speed can vary drastically, depending on how many other people are online in your area, and whether the cell tower's having its time of the month or not. So, the 10 per cent of British homes that rely on mobile broadband dongles for home broadband will need to upgrade before they can think of playing the latest Call of Duty online.
Things aren't necessarily rosy for those of us tethered to the internet by a cable, either. Around 15 per cent of fixed broadband lines have ping times which are also too high -- in the hundreds of milliseconds -- that'll make gaming difficult.
Thankfully, things are a little better when we look at the other important metric -- speed. The speed of your internet connection matters mostly for two things: downloading shiny new games, which will be a big deal on the Xbox One, as digital versions should be available on the same day as physical copies; and watching telly or movies on your console.
The speed is obviously important for downloading games, since the faster your broadband, the sooner you'll have your game. No one wants to spend hours on end waiting for a game to download -- you might as well just go buy the physical copy if that's the case. Thankfully, the UK's average broadband speed is 14.7Mbps, which is actually pretty quick. That means that it'll take just two hours to download the average-sized game -- and even for Grand Theft Auto V, which is a whopping 36GB install file, the download would only take five and a half hours.
It almost goes without saying, then, that watching HD movies will generally be a breeze. Common consensus is that streaming a HD movie from Netflix requires a connection of around 5Mbps -- easily inside the UK average. Even the slowest towns in the UK can handle HD streaming as well -- Hereford, the slowest town in the UK on average, posts download speeds around 3Mbps, well in excess of the 800Kbps needed for streaming Netflix in oh-so-grainy standard definition.
So, then, it seems like the UK's broadband is generally up to the challenge of Xbox One. Sure, things are a little strained on the multiplayer-gaming side, but with around three-quarters of households already good to go, it's fair to say that not many people are likely to be hamstrung by their connection.