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Why traffic management matters

Why traffic management matters

Why traffic management matters

choose.net logo Guest blog from Julia Kukiewicz, Editor of Choose.net Lately, our site has been getting quite a few emails like this: Traffic management is making my broadband so slow! To which the only fair response boils down to: umm, maybe. Increasingly, people and technology writers, like this one at Which?, seem to view any type of traffic management as an infringement on their online freedoms, a sort of arbitrary punishment dealt out from on high by the ISPs. But that view is unfair. Keep reading to find out why ... Although some broadband providers do without traffic management, and often do so very successfully from a user experience point of view, it doesn’t follow that any attempt to regulate network traffic is bad. In fact, the opposite is often true. In the following cases, a good traffic management policy, properly applied beats ‘restriction free’ broadband hands down. It improves or speeds up actual user experience, rather than slowing it down.

When you’ve got a full house

With a good traffic management policy, your YouTube videos of funny cats shouldn’t be interrupted by someone in the other room, downloading a movie from iTunes. Streaming and VoIP are both time sensitive so naturally it’s helpful for them to take priority over other activities. In some cases, rate limits can work with prioritised traffic to provide a double protection: ensuring that priority activities don’t suck up all the bandwidth.

If you’re a gamer

Counter intuitively, some of the UK’s fastest broadband providers have a poor reputation among gamers. Speeds may be high but the actual user experience is poor because there’s a poor response time, referred to as a high ping rate or latency. This matters to gamers more than other users because, well, if you don’t shoot the other guy first, it’s too late: he’s shot you. Fast networks are also no more or less likely to suffer from jitter, not so much a delayed as an inconsistently delivered connection, which produces similarly patchy and unpredictable gameplay. Effective traffic management – in the form of anti-loss technology, for example, or priority for gaming applications - can help in both cases. Find more information over on my site.

If you use VoIP

VoIP applications like Skype are particularly affected by packet loss and lack of bandwidth for obvious reasons: if your audio or video drops out or slows, conversations become very tricky. If you’ve ever said something on a video call and been met with a five second blank stare before your correspondent responds or, worse, had the person you’re calling end up talking over you, you’re not alone. This is an extremely common VoIP problem. As we’ve seen above, however, a fast or unlimited connection isn’t necessarily a VoIP friendly one. The optimal amount of bandwidth for a voice call is just 100Kbps and for a decent quality video call it’s 500Kbps so neither exactly breaks the bandwidth bank. Protection to ensure consistent performance is likely to be more helpful.

Should you choose an ISP for their policy?

It won’t have escaped your notice that I’m writing this on the Plusnet blog and that Plusnet manage traffic. However, I hope I’ve made clear that I’m not proselytizing that ‘traffic management is good; not managing is bad’. It’s more murky than that. For one thing, people didn’t start thinking that traffic management was bad for no reason. For years, for example, broadband users have found their connections severely slowed or stopped on the basis of extremely vague fair use policies (see more on these policies here). Traffic management really matters but just knowing that an ISP fiddles with their network doesn’t tell you much by itself. If your regular usage falls into one of the categories above, it’s always worth checking an ISP’s small print – which, if the ISP is following Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) guidance, should be prominently promoted alongside unlimited deals - and their reputation before signing up. In other words, yes, you should choose an ISP for their policy: just don’t choose one because they do or do not manage traffic full stop. Plusnet have always impressed us by making their quality of service small print really easy to access and understand and we hope they’ll continue to do so as they launch unlimited deals. For more information on less accommodating ISPs, try full reviews on sites like ours. This is a guest post from broadband comparison service Choose.net What are your opinions of traffic management? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Feel free to share your experiences with us below ...

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tex
Grafter
I fully agree that traffic management can be helpful. Living in between university campus and back at the parents home I do notice our PlusNet connections is a lot smoother for many things compared to the connection on campus - both speeds are the same at about 20mb/s but the latter does not do any traffic prioritisation. I think people get worried because they fear that it's a slippery slope for ISPs to severely throttle downloads like torrents which are notorious for draining a lot of bandwidth on the network. This can be remedied with clear and transparent policies which make sense to customers and I'm glad to see that PlusNet provide this information in just the right format.
Not applicable
TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT POLICIES HIDDEN IN THE SMALL PRINT SOUNDS LIKE A GET OUT CLAUSE FOR ANY ISP THAT CAN NOT PROVIDE THE SPEEDS THEY SAID THE CUSTOMER WOULD GET WHEN THEY FIRST SIGNED UP. FOR PEOPLE LIKE ME WHO ARE NOT GAMING,DOWNLOADING FILMS OR WATCHING YOU TUBE,ETC ETC BUT JUST WANT TO SURF THE WEB, EMAIL OR SHOP THEN ITS VERY VERY ANNOYING WHEN YOU CAN NOT GET EVEN A BASIC SERVICE AFTER ALL THE HYPE AND LIES SOME ISP TELL POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS. SURELY IF PEOPLE LIKE ME CAN NOT GET THE BASIC SERVICE WHY THE HELL WOULD I BELIEVE ANYTHING ANY ISP TELLS ME WHEN THEY SAY UP GRADE AND PAY MORE MONEY AND YOU WILL GET BETTER SPEEDS.....ABSOLUTE RUBBISH AND I WILL NOT BE FOOLED BY ALL THE HYPE..
Grafter
Yeah, well be it traffic management, or be it not, I can verify my plusnet fibre connection has the highest latency I've had since dialup! 40ms usually, online gaming isn't an option, voip became lossy. Avoid plusnet if you use the above or if you rely on the ability to browse the internet - it simply doesn't work.
Not applicable
Hi Steve, sorry to hear you're not happy with the service Sad What you're seeing is highly unlikely to be anything to do with our traffic management policies. Is your problem consistent or does it only occur during certain times of the day? In contrast here's a speed/ping test I've just run on my own line at home which shows that what you're seeing isn't typical of the service we provide: http://www.speedtest.net/result/2570533352.png http://www.pingtest.net/result/78343233.png I suggest reporting your problems to our support centre or dropping a post over on our discussion forums if you haven't already.
Dabbler
In short: Good traffic management is good. Bad traffic management is bad.