Traffic Shaping

I’m just downloading Ubuntu, don’t ask me why, maybe I just want to have a game of minesweeper. Preferred method for obtaining it is obviously downloading using BitTorrent. I’m actually a bit surprised that they don’t make a bigger deal of using .torrents. Then again, they must have a few universities up their sleeve where they can get free bandwidth.

– Anyhow –

What’s really annoying is that it’s only downloading at under 5Kb per second. Strange, isn’t it? I’m downloading something that is being uploaded by hundreds of people around the world, including some servers with very high upload speed. Smells fishy. Almost as if someone in between has made the decision for me that I’m not to play minesweeper tonight. Of course, as an avid reader of this blog you’ll know that the broadband service at the Suklaa HQ is provided BT. (We’ve had the service for a good four months now, not that it’s been good four months. Can’t wait until it’s over, eight months left.) What BT is obviously doing is traffic shaping. I guess easiest way I could explain traffic shaping is that imagine your stuck in traffic on A13 (or any other busy road). There’s bottle neck on that road; for me on A13 (towards London) it’s where main road continues as A1261 to Canary Wharf and A13 tears off. For Internet traffic this could be at your local exchange. To continue on A13 you have to queue for a while. The main reason why the queuing takes such a long time for 95% of the roads users is that the last 5% is skipping the queue*. Somehow magically those 5% of commuters feel that they are so far above other commuters that they have the right to skip.

How does this relate to BT? Pretty obvious. Like many Internet service providers, BT is slowing down parts of the traffic on the web so that other stuff can move faster. It might make sense if you had tunnel vision (hey, I don’t want MY Internet to be slow because my neighbor is downloading last 5 years worth of Hollyoaks) but looking at the bigger picture, I also don’t want my Skype calls to crumble – which they often do – because BT thinks it’s taking up too much space on their network. It’s much easier to widen the bandwidth of the Internet than it is to widen a road in an urban area. Also, it’s easier to make everyone equal on the Web.

Has any of you noticed anything like this with your ISP?

–kristian

*There’s a maximum limit to what a road can take over a period of time. This maximum is not exceeded by some cutting in. Sure, their time spent on that road is decreased but at the same time it takes longer for the others. You could argue that cutting in actually increases the average time spent on that road due to increased risk of accidents.

ps. I’ll post some links to proofs about BT’s traffic shaping practices when I get a chance. It’s 23:40 and I’ve got an early morning again.

[update] The download was in fact finished by the next morning which further implies that traffic shaping is taking place.

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