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It's Unlimited! Why is it still traffic managed?

It's Unlimited! Why is it still traffic managed?

It's Unlimited! Why is it still traffic managed?

Motorway traffic

From 29th June 2017, Traffic Prioritisation is no longer applied to our current Unlimited and Unlimited Fibre products.

Traffic management has been given a bad reputation because it is wrongly believed that its sole purpose is to slow down users or certain types of traffic. While historically, this may have been true of some providers, it’s a bit of an unfair reputation because if used in the way Plusnet do, it can actually enhance the customer experience. Let me explain …

Every man for himself

Imagine a typical household where several people are using the Internet at the same time. The adults are in the living room watching catch-up TV and one of them is using their smart phone to browse and chat at the same time. One of the kids is upstairs playing a game and using VoIP on the Xbox and the other kid is downloading NASA videos via BitTorrent from Mininova. That’s quite a lot of stuff going on and if you analyse it then the bandwidth needed for each application would be something like this:

  • Xbox game and VoIP – around 256kbps.
  • Catchup TV – 3.5Mbps constant stream for iPlayer HD.
  • Browsing on the phone – short bursts of traffic maybe 2-4Mbps several times a minute for a couple of seconds.
  • BitTorrent – will take as much bandwidth as it can get.

If that household is on an ADSL line, getting maybe 5Mbps then it’s easy to see there will be a pinch point where all of that 5Mbps is used up. Something has to give. In a world without traffic management it’s an all out fight between the competing applications and – because of the number of connections it makes - it’s probably the BitTorrent that wins meaning that the video buffers, the game seems to lag, the VoIP breaks up and browsing is slow. Even if the line was faster, much faster, (say 70Mbps) then the same thing can happen. If you saturate the bandwidth with different applications you’ll hit the pinch point even on 70Mbps and again something has to give and it can easily be the game or video stream.

Traffic prioritisation – how to do it properly

With traffic management, we identify the type of activity being undertaken and apply a prioritisation to it. This means that if there is a decision to be made as to which packets of data to drop, it is the lowest priority traffic which is dropped first, i.e. the activity that can work most effectively on lower bandwidth so it doesn’t effect a user’s experience. As we know the speed of each broadband line, we can tell when it is hitting its maximum capacity and make intelligent decisions, based on these priorities to protect your experience. Don’t worry, we’re not big brother watching you as we don’t identify what you are downloading or watching, but instead are spotting the type of traffic. So, back to the house again, the traffic gets the following priorities on Plusnet Unlimited:

  • Xbox game and VoIP – highest (Titanium).
  • Catchup TV – second highest (Gold).
  • Browsing on the phone – second highest (Gold).
  • BitTorrent – low (Bronze).

This means that the BitTorrent will never win the fight as it has the lowest priority. Rather than the streaming buffering and the gaming lagging, the traffic management ensures there is enough space for those applications and the BitTorrent traffic takes the rest of the available bandwidth. The NASA videos will take a few more minutes to download but means that the whole house can enjoy their broadband at the same time.

Supply and Demand

We’ve invested heavily in our network capacity and traffic management systems because we believe in giving our customers the best possible experience. Historically, we’ve used our product design and traffic management to encourage our customers to move large downloads overnight. People don’t use the Internet evenly across the day, usage is centred around the evening, (7pm to 11pm) and there’s spare capacity the rest of the day. However, we’ve seen a big shift in how people use the Internet over the last few years. The shift began with YouTube bringing streaming video to the masses, followed by iPlayer bringing catch-up TV to the UK. These were then of course followed by 4oD, Demand Five, ITV Player, Sky Go, Netflix, Lovefilm, YouView, NowTV and many others. The nature of these services is that most of the traffic is done in the evening when people are at home and want to watch them and in most cases can’t easily be scheduled. Average usage has doubled in just over two years driven almost entirely by streaming video. For many users 60GB is no longer enough and the security of an unlimited product is what they need but with the quality and reliability they’ve come to expect from Plusnet.

But how can it be Unlimited if it’s traffic managed?

The traffic management that we do isn’t stopping you from doing anything, we aren’t blocking or deliberately slowing down particular applications, we’re using it to ensure that real time applications like gaming and streaming don’t see any problems when people download at the same time. Most users won’t ever notice that traffic management is there because it just makes things work, and that’s the point. In the world of Unlimited broadband that’s exactly what people want. You don’t want the frustration of not being able to game because someone else is buying music from iTunes or watch a video when someone else is downloading via P2P. We think this sets us apart from the competition. After all, what good is unlimited broadband if you can only use one thing at once?

First-hand experiences

To ensure that the new unlimited service works exactly as our customers want, we’ve been doing extensive testing on the new product both internally with staff members and externally with some members of the Plusnet Usergroup and our Community Site Forum Moderators. When asked about prioritisation Usergroup member Barry Zubel had the following to say: What difference does prioritisation make to your online activities?

"A huge amount of difference! I know that even if I am downloading large patches, I can continue to stream or game simultaneously with very little impact on my ‘high priority’ traffic. It means I don’t have to worry about scheduling my downloads to times when I’m not gaming. It also means that I don’t have to leave the computer downloading a patch and go and do something else because it’s saturating my line.

What are your general thoughts around prioritisation?

"Implemented correctly, prioritisation should seamlessly provide a responsive internet service, regardless of the current activities that are occurring on the line. Being able to prioritize real-time activity (such as streaming, or voice comms) over delayable activities (such as patch downloading) should mean that the user is never having to wait for things that are important to them."

While moderator Oldjim says of our traffic management:

"It actually works despite many of my earlier disparaging comments I am downloading Assassins Creed 3 (came free with my new graphics card – about 15GB total) and it is saturating my connection but browsing and streaming aren’t significantly affected."

I hope that this has helped to explain how we plan on using traffic management on our new unlimited product. If you’ve any questions or queries, feel free to add them as comments or start a thread over on our discussion forums ...

0 Thanks
Not applicable
Thanks for such a good explanation Dave, let's hope plenty of users read this instead of posting the garbage we see periodically. I shall point a few people to this blog. Thanks again.
As one who participated in the pre-release trial I can confirm the Unlimited product performs well. In the busy evening period I tried two downloads at the same time, each of which alone would saturate my 8.5Mbps ADSL2+ line, along with an iPlayer stream. iPlayer showed no buffering with the two downloads taking some 60% and 40% of the remaining bandwidth.
Not applicable
I've already amended my Community forum signature to point to this article. It's an excellent explanation - I can see I'll be posting a link to it many many times.
Community Veteran
As someone who is an old wrinkly & still has so much to learn about the workings of the internet I've found this explanation to be clear, concise & easily understood. Thank you. Nick
Community Veteran
I had a fear that introducing Unlimited might adversely affect (other) users but, so far, no problems (at all), I'm sure that the rational use of traffic prioritisation is a large part of why my internet (nearly) always works flawlessly. Thanks for an understandable explanation. - Alastair.
Aspiring Hero
So only Xbox game and VoIP are truly unlimited. Why are these activities considered to be most deserving?
Not applicable
Good to see such a clear explanation in English (rather than technobabble) that pretty much anyone should understand. My area is due to get FTTC in a few months (unless they delay it a Third time) so I will certainly be linking to this blog article when I promote PN on several of my websites. I may end up receiving cash rather than just having referrals help pay my bill!
Not applicable
thankyou ever so much for that explanation, i'm not really internet/pc/allthingstechnical minded and even I've managed to catch on to this Wink
Community Gaffer
axisofevil > Bittorrent is truly unlimited if you aren't doing anything else. We've just make the decision that buffering is worse than your bittorrent download taking an extra 5 minutes. If you don't like that, you can have Pro to put them all in Gold, (but even then VoIP and Gaming are Titanium)
Problem is, traffic shaping logic has been fatally flawed for some time at Plusnet (and many other UK ISPs). For example, you say gaming gets titanium status, yet you class PSN game updates as Bronze because they use Akamai local mirrors and put it into the "download server" pot. Problem is, you have to install the game update to play online... 😞
@MarkG Even if it is in a lower priority queue, it should still come down at line speed unless you're using higher priority stuff at the same time though!
Not applicable
Great article. The rationale behind the prioritisation makes complete sense and, from my experiences of the last 3 weeks, the system is working. Many thanks to Strat for popping the link in the signature.
im about to swap away from sky 40gb limit then severe traffic manage down to 0.6mb i use torrents alot, am i going to have same issue with plusnet i want traffic for torrents please or am i forced to run them over night to get good speeds?
Not applicable
Hi marc, you'll be fine assuming you're moving to our unlimited product -
Not applicable
This was precisely why I signed up to Plusnet a year ago; they use traffic shaping properly, are open about it, and if I didn't like it I could opt to pay a little extra for the pro package. The only ISP I could find at the time who would do that for a reasonable price. It definitley seems to be doing it's job - girlfriend is streaming HD content on Netflix, whilst I'm gaming, and no issues what-so-ever. Ace!
Not applicable
Plusnet's website says unlimited, and I should expect line speed downloads all day. This is just not what I get though. It seems to me that shows the link is almost line speed, which is great for stats, but it seems to me that any significant downlaods get seriously slugged down to 30kbps (yes kbps - that's dial-up speed!). I have tried with same sites, same time same downloads different ISP and it's full speed. What conclusion should I draw? ;-(
Not applicable
Sounds like something's wrong to me Eric. On Unlimited Fibre I can max my line out regardless of the source of the download (as long as the site/source in question allows me to download at high speed of course). Have you spoken to our helpdesk about it?
Not applicable
I have just signed up to Plusnet and my Fibre connection is due to go live next week. Would Plusnet consider giving customers access to the Traffic Mgmt controls in some way so that you could control it yourself (Putting fairness limits on it if required). I have no desire to use VoIP or Gaming on a regular basis so it would be nice if I could set these as lower priority. I do use mIRC and Torrents from time to time so it would be useful to control these. I am going to "activate" the "Pro" option as soon as my connection is active. Maybe "Pro" customers could have the option to set Traffic Priorities. I like the way Plusnet are up-front about using TM, unlike some others that use it and deny it. Finally the router they supply for the fibre-broadband the TG582n - I have read on the WWW that it is hard to reserve IPs as I do with my current Netgear DG834N is this so? I have also looked at the manual for the TG582n, it doesn't say it has a WAN port supposedly required for use with the BT-supplied Fibre modem even though Plusnet supply it for use with the fibre service. Not sure what to make of that!
Not applicable
Hi Peter, It's not possible I'm afraid, mainly due to the limitations of the hardware/systems we have in place. I would suggest you see how you get on without Pro before paying extra for it. Chances are you won't need it. If by 'reserving IPs' you mean assigning static IPs to devices on your network, then this is wholly possible with the 582n. You can use the router GUI to do this or set the IP's statically on the devices in question. The 582n's we ship for fibre use custom firmware and have one of the ethernet ports converted to a WAN port.