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The Big Game puts a huge demand on internet providers. Here's how SDN prepares.

NFL Network on television in an SDN Communications server room
SDN Communications prepares for peak demand on its internet backbone, and peak demand coincides with the NFL season.

Prepping for the NFL postseason and the big game means different things for different people.

For fans, it can mean stocking up the fridge with snacks and drinks. Or maybe its making a selection in the office football squares pool.

For Gary Glissendorf, a network architect with SDN Communications, it means something much different. It means making sure customers will have the bandwidth to stream the games without glitches or dropped signals. It means planning for some of the largest viewing days of the year.

While SDN is a business-to-business internet provider, it also provides the internet to its 17 member companies such as Golden West Telecommunications and Alliance Communications. And their customers are streaming more content than ever before.

Sunday Ticket moving to YouTube increased demand on SDN network

The football season looked different this year because of Amazon streaming more games and YouTube taking over the Sunday Ticket package previously housed on DirecTV. SDN’s network had to be prepared.

“As internet providers, we have to plan for that peak moment,” Glissendorf says. “In 2022, the peak night for us was Thursday Night Football.”

With the NFL broadcasting more games exclusively on streaming platforms, SDN Communications prepares for peak internet usage on Thursday nights and Sundays.

The NFL began streaming their Thursday night games on Amazon in 2022. This decision had a significant impact on internet providers everywhere, Glissendorf says, because while a game broadcast with cable or a satellite dish utilizes just one signal into a home — no matter the number of TVs or devices being used — streaming is a different animal.

Each device is streaming a separate signal, multiplying the load on internet connectivity.

“I assume most households that watch the games stream on multiple devices,” Glissendorf says. “Thursday night football did impact a lot of people.”

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That puts pressure on the internet “backbone” or core, which delivers the highest volume of traffic. Before Amazon began streaming Thursday night games, it alerted SDN about the expected increase in demand.

“Their prediction was a 60 gig increase in our network,” Glissendorf says. “We saw an increase of 50 gig, which is pretty close to their estimation.”

Peak internet usage ‘always a moving target’

Prior to each year, Glissendorf looks at potential usage and makes a prediction for how much additional bandwidth will be needed to allow for the additional streaming needs during things like football games. SDN also plans several years into the future to accommodate expected demands.

“Our member companies do the same kind of predicting to accommodate customers,” Glissendorf said.

They might look at a community and estimate how many devices per household will be streaming. To meet the demands, it could mean purchasing new equipment or simply buying more bandwidth from a provider.

For Glissendorf, the planning means staying ahead of “internet trends.” But some things aren’t always predictable.

“A snowstorm in South Dakota is typically a peak day,” he says. “So, our planning may be a little different than other providers.”

The period of peak capacity for SDN’s network runs from Thanksgiving through March, which includes the holidays and cold months when people spend more time inside on their devices.

“There’s always a bump between Thanksgiving and Christmas when everybody buys new gadgets,” he says. “Outside of that, it’s weather or sporting events that drives demand.”

For the 2023-24 season, Glissendorf said YouTube TV’s purchase of the Sunday Ticket package increased the demand 30% on Sundays, but it still falls short of the Thursday night peaks.

“What’s it going to be (next season)?” he asks. “You have to stay agile and tuned in to what is changing in the world and adjust as needed because it’s always a moving target.”

This story was updated from a post that was published in September 2023.