How Optus Botched Its Coverage Of The World Cup

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As Aussie football fans fume over Optus Sport's unreliable FIFA World Cup streaming from Russia, Optus admits it underestimated the challenges of playing on the world stage. Optus insists it didn't skimp on the backend infrastructure required to stream World Cup matches to the nation. So what went wrong?

Optus was caught off-guard by the strong demand from Aussie football fans watching online during the first few days of the tournament, says Optus vice president of regulation and public affairs Andrew Sheridan.

"We absolutely put a lot of investment into ensuring that we can deliver the best possible experience," Sheridan says.

"I can absolutely guarantee that we did not under-cater in any shape or form."

The outages have most affected those watching live matches on their smartphone or tablet, with other devices like Optus' Fetch TV set-top box seemingly unaffected.

Optus' woes began on Friday night when it failed to allow for the number of Australians wanting to watch the match between Egypt and Uruguay. The match was available only via Optus Sport streaming, making it the first World Cup match in decades not screened on SBS.

"We thought we were ready but the simultaneous volume was much greater than we had anticipated," Sheridan says.

On top of this, Optus also underestimated the number of customers who would wait until the last minute to sign up for the Optus Sport service. This flood of new sign-ups just before the kick-off caused some viewers to be booted from the live stream – forcing them to log in again, putting even more strain on the system.

Optus Sport's World Cup woes continued throughout the weekend as it ran into a range of technical troubles, which left some frustrated viewers staring at a frozen picture or error messages in the middle of the night.

Meanwhile it was all hands on deck at Optus, with emergency meetings between senior brass and the technical team in the early hours of the morning.

Many of Optus' technical faults during the first few days of the tournament spring from the fact that Optus Sport's World Cup streaming service is far more technically complex and ambitious than its English Premier League service.

Troubles with the EPL coverage have also put Aussie football fans offside since Optus Sport gained exclusive coverage rights in 2016/17.

Even two seasons of streaming the EPL failed to fully prepare Optus for the stepping up to the truly big league.

Unlike the EPL, Optus Sport's World Cup service is available to Australians who aren't Optus home or mobile broadband customers.

This creates difficulties in serving up live streams across rival telcos' networks, not due to the quality of those networks but rather the need to cross networks and use different content delivery networks partners to reach all viewers.

This issue has mostly caused buffering on Apple devices running Apple software.

"Even so, it's our issue and it's our responsibility to fix it," Sheridan says.

"It had mostly settled down by Sunday night's Brazil versus Switzerland match, we were really seeing very few problems."

To add to the complexity, the World Cup service is also available on a wider range of devices than the EPL, including Apple and Android handsets as well as the Apple TV, Xbox One, Chromecast and Fetch TV streaming video players.

As with the EPL, Fetch TV's set-top box has provided the most reliable way to watch the World Cup online. A long-time provider of streaming pay TV services, Australian-based Fetch TV uses its own dedicated service to stream Optus Sport, totally separate from the stream Optus sends to other devices.

To further complicate the issue, Optus Sport is only available via a Fetch TV box purchased directly from Optus. Australians who purchased their Fetch TV from another telco, or directly from Fetch TV, are left on the sidelines.

In the week leading up to the World Cup kick-off, Optus began selling Fetch TV to non-Optus customers for the first time.

Since the streaming troubles began, Optus has also started to offer the Fetch TV Mini set-top box for free to some customers so they can watch the World Cup uninterrupted.

But even that has run into trouble with customers complaining Optus outlets have sold out of the devices.


This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald's home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.


Comments

    "I can absolutely guarantee that we did not under-cater in any shape or form."

    "We thought we were ready but the simultaneous volume was much greater than we had anticipated"

    Sounds like they did under-cater

      Also the exact two quotes I was going to... um... quote.

    I experienced problems with an Optus Fetch box on the Optus cable network. I have had the Fetch box for over a year. The reported problem were not limited to other networks, new devices or late signups.

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