Traffic management: what it is & how it affects you
The internet service provider industry has struggled with a poor reputation over the years, and while there are many reasons for this particular blame can be placed on its eagerness to advertise unlimited broadband with hidden terms that restrict its usage.
It wasn’t unusual to sign up for something advertised as unlimited only to run into ‘fair use’ limits which resulted in additional charges or a reduction in performance. All too frequently the details were hidden away in the small print and users only became aware once they’d butted up against the cap.
Thankfully, the situation is now much improved and there are numerous providers offering unlimited service, but one thing you may still encounter is a traffic management policy.
What is traffic management?
In order to maintain an acceptable performance for the majority of users, many ISPs will regulate and prioritise traffic across their network.
Certain things – notably file sharing – can consume an extremely large amount of bandwidth, which can mean that a small number of subscribers can have a big impact upon the network.
To prevent this, traffic management restricts the speed of some activities while also prioritising other tasks to ensure better performance all round. However, that means those users engaged in the traffic managed activities will encounter reduced speeds.
Provided the traffic management policy is not severe ISPs are permitted to continue advertising their packages as unlimited. In fairness many people will never notice the difference, though if you do like to engage in things like file sharing, online gaming and Skype calls then it’s worth checking out the traffic policies before signing up.
How does traffic management affect you?
While the BSG has implemented a voluntary code of practice in an effort to standardise traffic management policies, each ISP takes a different approach, which means you’ll need to examine a provider’s policy to ensure it meets your needs. But here’s a few things to look out for:
File sharing is the number one victim of traffic management as it can consume an enormous amount of bandwidth (both upstream and downstream). BitTorrent is usually the main target, however Usenet downloads may also be slowed.
Some providers only implement traffic management at particular times, often throughout the day and into the early evening, so you might want to wait until it goes offline to carry out restricted activities. Other providers may simply enable traffic management at all times.
Unlimited and value broadband
There can be differences in traffic management policies for different tiers of broadband service. The top-end premium or unlimited accounts may be entirely unrestricted, while cheaper subscriptions may include traffic management.
Fair use limits
Traffic management can be used to enforce a fair use policy. If you’re a particularly heavy user it is possible the ISP may restrict your connection’s performance after a certain threshold is breached, though they will generally issue warnings before this occurs and will only enable for a certain amount of time. In relation to the last point, this is the kind of thing which is generally only found on cheaper broadband deals.
Truly unlimited broadband
Some ISPs do now offer services entirely free of download caps and traffic management. At the time of writing this includes Sky broadband, BT broadband and TalkTalk. You can find more information about this service in the Broadband Genie unlimited broadband guide.