What are Traffic Management, FUP’s and Throttling?

Latest news for ISP traffic managementAlmost every ISP has some kind of traffic management policy in place, whether it’s slowing - 'throttling' - speeds at certain times or blocking access to sites like The Pirate Bay or Newzbin.

Knowing what the traffic management policy of an ISP entails is as important as doing your homework on things like the monthly usage cap, the cost of line rental, customer service and bundled services like digital TV or phone plans.

Here we’ve examined the Fair Use Policies - FUP’s - of the UK’s main ISPs and seen how they stack up against each other.

Traffic Management, FUP’s and Throttling: EE’s fibre broadband policy

Why do ISPs manage internet traffic?

Jump to: BT, Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk, EE, or check our Traffic Management Quick Reference

Internet service providers don't actually buy enough capacity for every customer to hit their maximum speed at once - broadband connections would cost a small fortune if they did.

It's very unlikely that everyone will be online at once and need maximum speed from their connection, so ISPs play a game of averages and buy just as much bandwidth as they think they can get away with for the number of customers they have.

Evenings and weekends are always going to be busier than daytime or the small hours of the night, when people are at work, at school, or asleep, so many ISPs fix the game in their favour by restricting your online activiity at these peak times.

Some broadband activities - like P2P downloads, Skype, or online gaming - are more intensive than others - and your ISP can detect different types of traffic and throttle them to a lower speed so there's enough for everyone to be streaming iPlayer or regular internet browsing and email without noticing a slowdown.

Sky is the only major ISP with no traffic management policy, which carries its own risks in areas where they have over-subscribed without buying enough capacity.

What about P2P file-sharing site blocking?

Legal action by copyright owners and their representatives such as the BPI and the MPA has forced the UK's major ISPs to block the most popular file-sharing sites.

BT/Plusnet, Virgin Media, Sky (including O2 and Be) and TalkTalk all block The Pirate Bay, Newzbin2, Kickass Torrents, Fenopy, H33T, Download4All and Movie2k.

BT Broadband traffic management

There's no longer any traffic shaping on BT's 'Unlimited' broadband packages, but on the standard Broadband and Infinity 1 packages, there's a mention in the smallprint that “network management policy applies.” Taking an electron microscope to the terms and conditions reveals that his just applies to P2P - peer-to-peer - traffic.

P2P is ostensibly throttled as if a lot of people are accessing P2P sites it can swamp the network and make connection speeds slower for people not using it.

It’s also a given than a lot of P2P activity will be used for acquiring music and movies though not exactly legitimate methods. BT has also famously blocked access to The Pirate Bay and Newzbin - something which all the big ISPs are required to do by law.

P2P traffic on BT broadband connections are slowed between 4pm and 12pm on weekdays and 9am and 12pm on weekends.

While P2P traffic is slowed, no other services - like gaming, newsgroups or VoIP - are subject to any throttling or traffic management and nor are they prioritised.

Apart from P2P throttling on its entry-level packages, BT does not shape or alter traffic in any way.

Virgin Media traffic management

Virgin Media also manages P2P traffic and in its Fair Use Policy explicitly points the finger at proscribed sites like Limewire, Gnutella and BitTorrent, and it manages uploads and downloads independently. 

Access to newsgroup services like Usenet are also restricted, with those accessing similar sites subjected to slower connection speeds. There are no restrictions overnight from 11pm-4pm weekdays, or 11pm-11am at weekends. 

For on-network services where you get speeds of above 30Mbps, your connection speed will be reduced by 10 per cent if you hit your allowance for the first hour and then by 16 per cent until the end of peak time if you exceed a second limit. 

Virgin Media traffic management Download allowances: over 30Mbps services

Weekday peak 4pm-11pm. Weekend peak 11am-11pm.

Package Headline speed (Mbps) 1 hour threshold 1 hour speed cap 2 hour threshold 2 hour speed cap
L (new) 30 2.75GB 21Mbps 3.5GB 18Mbps
XL (old) 30 2.75GB 21Mbps 3.5GB 18Mbps
XXL (old) 50 3.35GB 35Mbps 4.1GB 30Mbps
XL (new) 60 3.6GB 42Mbps 4.5GB 36Mbps
XXL100 (new) 100 4.5GB 70Mbps 5.75GB 60Mbps
100 (old) 100 4.5GB 70Mbps 5.75GB 60Mbps
XXL120 (new) 120 5GB 84Mbps 6.25GB 72Mbps

Virgin Media traffic management Upload allowances: over 30Mbps services

Weekday peak 4pm-11pm. Weekend peak 11am-11pm.

Package Headline speed (Mbps) 1 hour threshold 1 hour speed cap 2 hour threshold 2 hour speed cap
L 2 750MB 800kbps 1GB 500kbps
XL (old) 3 900MB 1.2Mbps 1.2GB 750kbps
XXL (old) 5 950MB 2Mbps 1.3GB 1.25Mbps
XL (new) 3 900MB 1.2Mbps 1.2GB 750kbps
XXL100 (new) 5 950MB 2Mbps 1.3GB 1.25Mbps
100 (old) 10 1.25GB 4Mbps 1.7GB 2.5Mbps
XXL120 (new) 12 1.5GB 4.8Mbps 2GB 3Mbps

Note: Virgin's customers are currently going through a speed-doubling programme which will eliminate the 50Mbps tier in 2013. 

For those on Virgin Media off-network DSL services where the speeds are 20Mbps or slower, daily traffic management allowances are as follows:

Virgin Media Traffic Management daily allowance: under 20Mbps services

Download peak 5pm-10pm. Upload peak 3pm-8pm. Capped speeds last for 5 hours.

Package Headline speed (Mbps) Download allowance Download speed cap Upload allowance Upload speed cap
S 5 250MB 1.25Mbps 100MB 64kbps
M 10 750MB 2.5Mbps 750MB 256kbps
L 10 1.5GB 2.5Mbps 1.5GB 256kbps
XL 20 3.5GB 5Mbps 1.75GB 256kbps
M/L 20 3.5GB 5Mbps 3GB 500kbps

Sky Broadband traffic management

Sky Broadband was for some time unique among the UK’s major ISPs in that it doesn’t apply any kind of traffic management at all, now others are following suit.

Nothing is prioritised or de-prioritised at any time of the day or any day of the week, including P2P services like BitTorrent.

So when we said at the start of this piece that every ISP has a traffic management policy we weren’t wrong. Sky does have a policy, one which basically says ‘do what thou will’.

That still hasn’t stopped it complying with the UK Court Order and blocking The Pirate Bay.

TalkTalk traffic management

TalkTalk has removed all traffic management from its Essentials and Plus broadband products at all times, including P2P services (although like all the large ISPs some P2P sites are blocked).

No type of traffic receives priority over any other, although TalkTalk Plus TV susbcribers will find around 4Mbps of their connection is set reserved for TV when their YouView box is streaming TV, in order to ensure a smooth, high quality picture.

EE Broadband traffic management

Like TalkTalk, EE Broadband’s traffic management slows down P2P and newsgroup traffic while giving a speed boost to online gaming and VoIP calls.

Other forms of web use, audio and video streaming, music and video downloads (via non P2P sources) and instant messaging are unrestricted, neither given priority or subject to throttling.

EE Broadband’s traffic management kicks in at peak hours, defined as 6pm to 11:30pm on weekdays and 5pm to 11:30pm on weekends.

As well as this, EE Broadband also applies restrictions to NetBIOS, stopping connections to non-EE SMTP email servers on port 25 as a preventative anti-spam measure.

While there are no other restrictions put in place by EE Broadband, the order to block The Pirate Bay, as agreed previously by Orange Home Broadband, still applies here.

ISP Traffic Management Quick Reference 

When does everyone apply traffic management?

ISP Traffic management times
BT 4pm-Midnight weekdays/9am-Midnight weekends
Virgin Media 3pm-11pm weekdays/11am-11pm weekends
Sky never
TalkTalk never
EE Broadband 6pm-11:30pm weekdays/5pm-11:30pm

Quick Reference: What is managed?

ISP Traffic management targets
BT P2P
Virgin Media P2P, Newsgroups
Sky n/a
TalkTalk 4Mbps capacity reserved for video streaming for TV customers
EE Broadband P2P, Newsgroups (throttled), gaming and VoIP (prioritised)

Image credit: Flickr user Richard and Gill

Latest news for ISP Traffic Management

BT throttles throttling with Totally Unlimited packages

BT has relaxed traffic shaping on all but its lowest-level broadband and fibre packages under the Totally Unlimited badge.

Users of the up-to-16Mbps Unlimited Broadband ADSL service, Unlimited Infinity 1 up-to-38Mbps and Unlimited Infinity 2 up-to-76Mbps will no longer experience peak-time restrictions on P2P traffic.

The entry-level BT Broadband and BT Infinity 1 will still see P2P traffic throttled from 4pm-9pm on weekdays and 9am-midnight at weekends.

ISP Traffic Management: BT throttles throttling with Totally Unlimited packages
Unlimited and smug with it

John Petter, managing director of BT’s Consumer division, said: “We believe we have boosted our broadband offering by moving our best broadband deals to totally unlimited.

"Customers told us that they wanted to be able to enjoy catch-up TV, streamed films and other bandwidth-eating applications without having to worry about going over their limit or being slowed down by their ISP.

“But we wanted to make that really affordable too, without the sort of traffic management Virgin Media, TalkTalk or EE customers may find themselves subject to.

"Unlike Sky, we’re extremely confident that our network can stand up to the extra bandwidth demands from totally unlimited products everywhere across the UK."

February 1, 2013

EU digital chief wants ISPs to offer unrestricted ‘full’ internet option

EU digital chief wants ISPs to offer unrestricted ‘full’ internet optionBroadband providers could be compelled to offer a ‘full’ service without any traffic management, parental control or advertising censorship under new EU rules.

Neelie Kroes, the European Union’s Digital Commissioner, wants ISPs to explain their traffic management policies in simple language.

Customers should also be offered an option with no traffic management, even if it’s more expensive than the managed packages.

Writing in her blog, Kroes said: “Ensuring consumer choice can mean constraints on others – in this case, an obligation for all internet service providers to offer an accessible “full” option to their customers.

“Consumers need effective choice on the type of internet subscription they sign up to. That means real clarity, in non-technical language. About effective speeds in normal conditions, and about any restrictions imposed on traffic – and a realistic option to switch to a “full” service, without such restrictions, offered by their own provider or another.

“But such choice should also drive innovation and investment by internet providers, with benefits for all. I am preparing a Commission initiative to secure this effective consumer choice in Europe.

"Consumers need...a realistic option to switch to a full service, without restrictions"“Make no mistake: I am in favour of an open Internet and maximum choice. That must be protected. But you don’t need me, or the EU, telling you what sort of Internet services you must pay for.

“EU law promotes the ability of consumers to access the full range of lawful online applications, content and services. But the public interest does not, in my view, preclude consumers from subscribing to more differentiated, limited internet offers, possibly for a lower price.”

The full blog post extends the full range of consumer choices to include clear information and choice about privacy settings, parental controls, internet browsers blocking user tracking, behavioural advertising tracking, and ISPs blocking online advertising.

French ISP FREE recently blocked all online advertising to its subscribers without consulting its customers, causing a furore amongst internet businesses which rely on advertising.

January 24, 2013