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Does the 'Halo 2' effect threaten broadband?

Billion-dollar networks are under siege from zombie hordes of gamers rushing online to, like, kill aliens and stuff.

The rapid growth in online game playing will put pressure on broadband networks to evolve, according to research published this week by Sandvine.

The Internet traffic-monitoring company said Tuesday that Microsoft's "Halo 2"--a popular first-person shooter game--has boosted traffic on Xbox Live as players rush to compete over the Net.

Sandvine's latest statistics showed that Xbox Live traffic quadrupled when "Halo 2" was launched on Nov. 9, and it has stayed at that level since. Sandvine claims that this will put added pressure on ISPs to improve the quality of their broadband offerings, as users will demand reliability and low latency.

"The explosion in X-Box Live traffic attributed to 'Halo 2' should be seen as a clarion call," Marc Morin, chief technology officer of Sandvine, said in a statement.

"ISPs need to enhance the broadband experience for these high-end users by prioritizing or reserving bandwidth for games and other kinds of latency-sensitive and feature-rich applications," Morin added.

British telecommunications giant BT, whose network supports most of the United Kingdom's ISPs, argues that there are a lot of reasons why an online-game session might suffer from network disruptions like poor latency.

"It depends where the players are based," said a BT representative. "A session where four gamers are all based in the U.K. is likely to have pretty low latency. If one is based in America, one in Australia and one in Brazil, then there's more chance of latency because of Internet lag."

ISPs see online games as an application that could tempt many people-- both PC and console users--to broadband. At present though, according to BT, online games account for only a small proportion of overall Internet traffic, so the increase caused by "Halo 2" shouldn't have massive implications for telecommunications providers.

In the long term, BT's 21st Century Network--under which it will move from today's legacy equipment to an all-IP infrastructure over the next few years--could make the United Kingdom a leader for online games.

"The 21st Century Network will hopefully mean there will be much less latency for gamers," said the BT representative.

Graeme Wearden of ZDNet UK reported from London.