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.netWhat are your opinions of traffic management? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Feel free to share your experiences with us below ...