Broadband: from speed through bandwidth rationing to active traffic management to quality of service

Those of you who have moved from 5 to 15 to 50 mbs broadband will have discovered that it does not always lead to significant improvement in delivered service. The causes are many and varied: from line quality, through PC security to “traffic management” at various levels.

At one level are the disputes beween those whose service appears to limp along at 1 – 2 mbs and engineers who say it is running at 5 – 10. There are also unexplained “pauses” in service supposedly running at 50. The causes of the former range from belts of interference on lines within the home or between the home and the exchange. The cause of the latter is often security products running scans or fighting each other. Increasingly users are switching off anti-virus, anti-spam, firewall or website filtering to stop them blocking wanted traffic or to improve response times.

Meanwhile those in rural or inner city areas would love to have the problem. In an interesting variant on the argument that the Internet helps families keep in touch – my son regularly visits us because he cannot get the speed in Wapping to watch live football from around the world (i.e. not just what is shown on Sky Sports and its competitors).  

Then there is the interplay between the various “traffic management” (alias queuing) systems used to ration the capacity of the physical (copper, fire or wireless) channels over which traffic flows and well as of routing and peering centres and the servers on which content resides. Here we see much specious argument about net neutrality or “lack of demand” between players who want to see investment (by others) to remove bottlenecks and players who wish to sweat (their) past investment. 

I was therefore very pleased to see that Ian Grant (usually focussed on problems with raw speed and/or procurement scandals) has blogged on what looks to have been a most interesting and informative meeting on some of the issues, albeit he has used the kind of doom and gloom (impending crisis) headline I commonly to use to try to draw attention to issues that are “too boring for politicians”, but rather more important than those about which they obsess. This area is important.

It also needs to be put into the context of the need to converge (used as an active verb) investment in 21st century infrastructure, UK public sector procurement (particularly inter-operability standards and also the organisation and funding of UK participation in global standards activities). Here I would like to give a word of praise to BDUK and DCMS, instead of my usual carping criticism. Their support for an active and balanced UK participation in both the IGF and WCIT is most welcome. I look forward to seeing that kind of forward thinking leadership in other areas.