Apr 232010

When I get asked to investigate why somebody’s broadband connection (irrespective of the type of broadband) is running slow, I often find that by changing  the way they are using the Internet connection can lead to a dramatic improvement. Firstly you need to understand how different applications use the Internet and secondly, what are the busiest times for the Internet in Ireland.

  • Surfing the Internet using a browser or sending/receiving emails does not use very much bandwidth and in general you can have a lot of people sharing a connection if this is all they are doing.
  • Internet gaming again does not use very much bandwidth, but is very dependent on getting small amounts of data through very quickly. This means that Internet games can be very sensitive to other heavy users that share the same connection. This also applies to Online Poker.
  • Audio applications can use significant amounts of bandwidth. The problem is that applications like streaming radio/music will try to grab as much bandwidth as possible and many routers prioritise this traffic, as it is much more sensitive to delay than data. This can have a detrimental affect on the online gaming.
  • YouTube/Streaming Video can use huge amounts of bandwidth (two or three times the amount that audio uses, depending on quality). If you have three or four people watching videos at the same time, then all other applications will suffer.
  • The applications that have the biggest affect on bandwidth are downloads. Whether you are using a Peer to Peer File-sharing app (torrents etc.) or a File Sharing service (UseNeXT or Rapidshare, etc.) for LEGAL downloads, these applications are optimised to download as fast as possible and will go after every bit of bandwidth available. These applications can also run background processes which are not obvious. So while you don’t think you are uploading or downloading, these applications are running in the background.

The second thing is the traffic patterns on the Internet. If you are planning a journey from Wexford to Dublin Airport, the time you allow for the journey could double depending on whether you hit rush hour or not. Well it’s exactly the same for the Internet. The speed will vary grately depending on what time of the day it is. The busiest time for the Internet in Ireland is between 6:00pm and midnight, although there is a significant rise in traffic from 4:00pm onwards (the kids get off school). There is also a significant increase in traffic over lunch also. By far the quietest time is between midnight and 8:00am.

So if you are a home user, then schedule any large downloads for after midnight and they’ll be waiting for you in the morning. If you are a business user then do any software updates first thing in the morning and they will be twice as quick as later in the afternoon.

The final point is that Yes, we know that broadband speeds in Ireland should be much faster and we constantly fight for better broadband infrastructure so that we can pass on faster speeds to our customers. Hope this helps.

Mar 232010

We often get customers calling complaining about the speed of their broadband connection and while there are  usually identifiable technical reasons, either on our network or on their PCs, sometimes its just how traffic ebbs and flows on any broadband network.

If you were to make the analogy between a broadband network and  the road network for example. On large sections of the M50 motorway  the speed limit is 100KM, but you’d be lucky to get 20KM during rush hour. If you were to build the M50 so that you could go at 100KM during rush hour then it would need to be 20 lanes wide (I drove on a freeway in Santa Monica that was 13 lanes wide, scary). That would clearly be impractical. Like on the roads many people choose to do non time-critical downloads during peak times. Peak times for the Internet in Ireland are between 18:00 and 00:00, although there is a noticeable increase in traffic from about 16:30, when the kids get home from school. Most download utilities provide an option to schedule your LEGAL ONLY downloads for a quieter time, say between 01:00 and 6:00, when there is very little traffic. If we could educate everybody to stop all unnecessary traffic during peak times, then it would double the available bandwidth and dramatically increase speeds for those applications we really want to use like Skype, YouTube, online games, etc.

Now before anybody jumps down my neck, I fully accept that describing the broadband infrastructure in Ireland, outside of the major urban centers, as motorways is stretching the analogy. But we do constantly fight the battle with the powers that be to bring in faster back-haul connections so that we can increase the speeds available to our customers.