Here’s a thought, could this year’s Football World Cup in South Africa be the digital straw that finally breaks the 3G networks back(bone)?

Consider the TV viewing habits of most English blokes (and may ladies as well) come June. For one month of the year, national teams that have previously held no interest whatsoever to an individual will become must-see matches.

17th June Greece versus Nigeria, must see match, 19th June Cameroon versus Denmark, must see match. The World Cup, like perhaps no other sporting tournament on the planet, turns billions of people into sport junkies from the first group game to the final. And this year, football aficionados will be able to watch the games officially – and unofficially – over 3G and wireless networks.

Anyone living in London with an iPhone under an 02 contract is already experiencing daily connectivity issues as the network struggles to cope. The somewhat embarrassing admission by Ronan Dunne, head of 02, over the poor coverage being down to unexpected demand for data services (for a phone that is sold on its Internet capabilities? Go figure that one out) is not only somewhat of an own goal but also perhaps a precursor for things to come.

If he thinks things are bad now, just wait until tens of thousands of iPhone owners start piling into streamed TV services and football apps when the games are on. Read the story here

Don’t worry, I can hear you say, Wi-Fi will help take demand off the 3G network. Well yes it will, until pubs and clubs get smart about people putting a massive load on their networks. I don’t know about other iPhone owners but even with a full Wi-Fi signal I struggle to get the subscription Sky Sports service to run on Virgin Trains or BT Hotspots, probably because the network is discriminating against these types of services.

And with the likes of which can stream live TV from a multitude of free-to-air stations in the UK over a 3G network (and Wi-Fi as well), it’s not hard to see how networks could soon become swamped.

After all, while the preference will always be to switch to a Wi-Fi connection, there will still be plenty of iPhone and other smartphone owners – in parks walking their dog, doing the shopping with their partner, at the zoo with their kids – who’ll have one eye on the monkeys and the other eye on how the three lions are getting on against the USA.

My bet is that come 11th June when the hosts South Africa kick off against Mexico in the inaugural game of the 2010 competition, data networks will start to creak.

When England take the field a day later against the yanks, they could come to a standstill.