EE mobile traffic surges during England World Cup action

England’s dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Colombia last Tuesday was their first ever in a World Cup match and Eric Dier’s successful spot kick led to scenes of delirium across the country as even the most cynical of supporters started to wonder whether football was indeed coming home.

But the two-and-a-half emotional rollercoaster has also offered some insights into how people are watching the game. 

Television ratings have been huge, with ITV reporting peak figures of 24.4 million for Tuesday’s match.

EE 4G World Cup

The BBC has also enjoyed bumper ratings on iPlayer, with more than 40 million streaming requests during the group stage. In an era of unparalleled choice of on-demand viewing, the World Cup is a unifying event that people from all walks of life wish to consume live – together, or on their mobile.

EE’s latest network figures appear to corroborate this hypothesis, adding that the World Cup is the only event that actually stops people using their home broadband. Broadband demand was at its lowest for a year during England v Colombia and throughout the competition, EE has noted a drastic drop in home broadband usage and a surge in mobile traffic when matches are being played

Much of this for is for mobile streaming, but significant amounts of social media traffic suggest that most people are watching on traditional television.

During the match, social use peaked before kick-off, during half-time and at full-time. There was a huge surge at the end of the penalty shoot-out, particularly on Facebook which accounted for 188Gbps when Dier scored, and on Snapchat as fans shared videos and images of the celebrations.

The data also gives an idea of streaming habits. EE saw that most streamers turned off the feed during half-time so they could open social media applications, while the penalty shoot-out saw traffic rise dramatically as even casual fans sought to catch the action. Although ITV has its own mobile app, the ITV hub, a fifth of all viewing came via the Sky Go application.

Network surges are not unusual during major football tournaments. Daniel Sturridge’s winner against Wales at Euro 2016 broke records on EE’s network, while O2 and Vodafone also reported traffic spikes during the same match.

But mobile operators, sports organisations and rights-holders will be intrigued to learn as much as they can about these trends as the way consumers interact with content changes.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.