back to article Ofcom launches idiot's guide to traffic-shaping

UK net regulator Ofcom has published an idiots' guide to traffic shaping to try to encourage people to see how wonderful it is ahead of the inevitable battle over net neutrality. Starting with a history of the internet, the document (PDF, as silly as it sounds) explains that in the early days there wasn't any congestion – …


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  1. Steven Jones


    Every frame is sacred.

    Every frame is great.

    If a frame is delayed,

    The EU gets irate

    In other words, net neutrality fundamentalism is just another blindly dogmatic faith.

    1. nexsphil

      Re: Refrain

      Pff. Give it another couple of years and there'll be nobody but astroturfers left on boards like these. We're all fucking SICK of the stink of you.

  2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    If people like OFCOM & the ASA would ensure that "totally unlimited" and "no traffic shaping" really meant what they said, and hence allow people to make clear, informed decisions, then I'm OK with traffic shaping.

    The problem is when it's all hidden in tiny small print where "unlimited" and "not shaped" don't mean what the man/women in the street think they mean.

    1. Haku








      *does not include free car

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I read this and had to check the author as it read a lot like Orlowski. Not a good sign.

  4. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    On the other hand...

    If you pay for an X Mbps connection you should get X Mbps and decide how you want to use it. If an ISP runs out of bandwidth they should either buy more or share it around equally, not decide they don't like some protocols. Mind you, you do need to handle people who max out their connection 24/7 to download 'stuff' for the sake of it :-(

    BTW - I choose to use a less well-known provider because they don't enforce traffic shaping. Some of the work I do requires the occasional ftp/git downloads of large (>1GB) files and some ISPs restrict the bandwidth on these to close to nothing.

    When I was looking for a provider, one tried to tell me not to worry about it as my cat videos wouldn't be hit...

    1. Terry Barnes

      Re: On the other hand...

      You're only really paying for your last mile speed. If you want guaranteed throughput all the way to a peering point you can have it, but it will cost you thousands. Consumer broadband is built down to a price - and that will be true all the time the vast majority of people buy broadband based on what's cheapest.

      Contention of 50:1 means that things can slow down at busy periods - but it also means that the expensive part of the connection costs you only a 50th of what it otherwise would.

      1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

        Re: On the other hand...@Terry Barnes

        That's great, but if I've paid my 1/50th, then why shouldn't I get my 1/50th? Why should Virgin Media or whoever be allowed to drop my packets, because there are others that they like more (e.g. perhaps me using VOIP doesn't make them extra money, but offering catch-up TV does).

        1. Terry Barnes

          Re: On the other hand...@Terry Barnes

          Well the problem then would be that you'd never be able to go faster than that 1/50th. Today you get to use your connection at full speed all the way to the peering point if the network isn't congested. Insist on getting exactly your 1/50th and you've essentially gone back to a couple of hundred kilobits max.

  6. ElNumbre

    Standard Metrics

    This is going to happen to most 'consumer' ISPs whether you like it or not. And whilst it sucks more than <<removed by camoron WSTOFC filter>> what Ofcom need to enforce is standard measurement metrics. At least this way, Jo Consumer can know that Virgin* rate limit videos between 6pm and Midnight whilst BT* rate limit videos between 4pm and 10pm. And it should be a contractual element that the consumer can get out of a contract if those limits change.

    * ISPs shown are representative rather than factual.

  7. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Down

    Bus Lane? Try Ford Lane.

    What Ofcom seem to be missing is that if you're streaming your content from one your Broadband Provider's "approved suppliers" (ie themselves or one they get a kick-back from) then your traffic is prioritised over someone who is streaming from a non-approved supplier.

    This is the equivalent of having a "Ford Cars Only" lane on the motorway because Ford have struck a deal with the DfT to charge their customers a fee to use that lane and pay the DfT a percentage. Other cars aren't allowed to use that lane because their manufacturers aren't paying the Government for the privilege.

    1. Terry Barnes

      Re: Bus Lane? Try Ford Lane.

      It's not that its prioritised as such - it's more fundamental than that.

      A separate IP network, that isn't the public internet, delivers the special content to the edge of the network. Video on demand is served from a point as close as possible to the last mile - that's how businesses like Akamai make their money and it's how VoD services provided by ISPs work.

      Net neutrality laws won't and can't change that. The traffic isn't Internet traffic, so how will a law applying to Internet traffic even touch it? Your ISP is reserving part of your last mile bandwidth to deliver non-public Internet IP traffic. If the law is framed to try and extend beyond the strict definition of the public Internet then MPLS becomes illegal and corporate WANs around the globe stop working.

      I'd guess as well that ISPs *could* give all traffic equal priority but perhaps could neglect to provide enough bandwidth to the peering point that they know certain traffic comes from.

      My view is that this stuff is too complicated and technical for any poorly-framed law to actually have the intended effect. The market should decide.

  8. User McUser

    Apt analogy

    Because in the future, if you can't afford to pay for packet priority then you get to ride the bus with all the other "unimportant" traffic.

    Unless I, the consumer, have total control over what packets get priority and when, they can cram it with walnuts. If you don't want me streaming video at 10Mbps, then don't give me a 10Mbps connection. If you don't want me downloading hundreds of GB of data a month, then don't sell me an "unlimited" connection.

  9. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    " ISPs are open and honest about what"

    Graham Marsden's point is well made.

    ISP's have been doing this. They just don't like talking about (unless it's to govt ministers looking to implement the Snoopers Charter).

    That secrecy is what would p**s me off.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We get a very bad deal in the UK.

    I have been to Australia for 1 year. 3g / HSDPA networks and 4g are really good. Sip etc. all worked really well. In Austria now, unlimited (seriously) 3g connection, excellent download speeds - just restored 100gb dropbox backup in a few days, again sip works well.

    Come to the UK, Demon business internet - traffic shaping or what! - download speeds slowed right down. Orange 3G/HSDPA - crap as well - probably so that it forces people to move to 4g.

    Most people do not realise how bad the UK mobile/internet service has become. We are paying more, and getting much less for it. The companies cheat us with 'traffic shaping' and OFCOM does JS. You only appreciate it when you go and live abroad for a while.

  11. Mike Flugennock

    1994 called; they want their beat-assed analogy back

    ..."Activities like streaming video are the lorries and take up a lot of space, whereas emailing or browsing are smart cars and much smaller" Ofcom explains, citing motorways as comparable to pipes. "A bus lane gives priority to buses over other types of vehicles and makes the buses’ journey times shorter."

    So, we're back to that Information Superhighway horseshit again, then?

  12. Chad H.

    illegal for anyone to pay extra for a decent Netflix connection

    Because strangely enough when we BUY an Internet connection, we expect to GET an Internet connection, not just a connection to the bits my operator has been bribed to connect to.

    1. Terry Barnes

      Re: illegal for anyone to pay extra for a decent Netflix connection

      Isn't that the problem though - expectations that aren't accurate? You're not buying a dedicated connection to the Internet, you're buying a last mile at a headline speed and then a share of some backhaul to a peering point. If you're consistently using more than your fair share in a way that is detrimental to the people you are sharing with, your ISP takes steps to redress that.

      Maybe ISPs should be more upfront about contention ratios and the like, but there's a chance they'd just confuse people. You can buy uncontended high speed bandwidth from end-to-end but the cost is dramatically more than buyers of consumer broadband want to pay. It's cheap *because* you share it.

      1. asdf

        Re: illegal for anyone to pay extra for a decent Netflix connection

        >be more upfront about contention ratios and the like, but there's a chance they'd just confuse people.

        And they would just confuse people trying to explain why they make Netflix nearly unwatchable but due to the big kickback from Hulu they deliver it first at the expense of all other traffic. The confuse people excuse is a load of horse shit.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: illegal for anyone to pay extra for a decent Netflix connection

        As I recall it they used to be more upfront about contention during the days of dialup. It was usually billed as a selling point in ads for all but the ISPs with the worst ratios.

  13. Dave Robinson

    Not so simple

    It's not just about traffic shaping. The end user experience depends on contention, exchange loading, backhaul capacity, peering, CDN arrangements and more. Most of these things mean nothing to the average user who looks mainly at the cost, and in any case is using a cheap N150 router sat next to the microwave.

  14. asdf

    net neutrality shouldn't be needed

    The market could take care of this if the telecom/internet/wireless market was truly open but in many countries they are so heavily regulated to the point where the barrier of entry is so high the few big incumbent players are virtually guaranteed no new competition (in US cable market local monopolies are the norm). Commanding heights is such a fail it will bite you in the ass for decades after the decision.

    1. catprog

      Re: net neutrality shouldn't be needed

      The problem is the barrier of entry for cabling is quite high without regulation.


    Follow the money

    ISPs want to charge content providers, as the big boys have deep pockets. This is bad for start ups, as they do not yet have the deep pockets. If I send a container to a customer , either the sender or the reciever pays haulage, not both. Plus I do not expect the trucking company to look into the container to see if it is coal or Cds. They just get to see delievery times, size and weight.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I can hardly contain my excitement!

    A guide by idiots for people they think of as idiots (i.e. those in need of a little 'attitude correction')

    WTG Ofcom! Business as usual.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Past Phorm

    Interesting that Ofcom should choose a road traffic analogy, then pick bus lanes, the transport of the masses, as a great example of prioritisation, when what they seem to have been positioning themselves to back for a couple of years now is quite the opposite, more akin to "Zil lanes" popularised during the Olympics or toll roads for the better off.

    It certainly fits well with Ofcom's past logic and history of general foot dragging inaction, where anything at all that generates more money in the industry is fine with them irrespective of right and wrong, provided businesses are "transparent" about how they're rogering the consumer senseless. Phorm anyone?

  18. Roaima

    When is Net Neutrality not Net Neutrality?

    It seems to me that there are two different uses of the phrase Net Neutrality.

    As I understand it, the original meaning referred to the the situation where for any one given traffic type, traffic was prioritised for one set of providers in preference to another set. So, it might be that an ISP had a deal with Netflix to prioritise its video streaming traffic in preference to that from Amazon/Lovefilm, and this was to be prohibited by the Net Neutrality requirement.

    Instead, what seems to be happening is that the phrase is being used in the context of prioritising different types of traffic, and so refers to the situation where VoIP traffic is being prioritised over, say, Web browsing.

    I have no major problem with time sensitive traffic such as VoIP (and games, I guess) being prioritised over Web browsing, although since I'm not a gamer I must admit I'd prefer for traffic to be contended by subscriber. EntaNet used to do this. It had a fixed amount of network bandwidth, and when there were fewer users online we'd all get our (then) 2Mb/s. As the number of users increased the available bandwidth was divided equally amongst them all and traffic limiting applied as necessary.

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Re: When is Net Neutrality not Net Neutrality?

      You've hit on a point there that is sort of related. Now that all networks are a series of point-to-point links with concentrators¹, it is possible that 2 packets arrive at a switch at exactly the same time. Obviously, 1 has to be forwarded before the other, and I am happy in this case for the time-sensitive packet to go first². For me that doesn't violate the rule of "net nutrality" - the 2 packets cannot be forwarded in parallel, one has to go first.

      Now the difference comes when the problem is that the network is congested. In this case, what is "fair"? For me if everyone pays the same, then everyone's packets are equal, and therefore are routed/dropped equally. Obviously if someone pays more, then they receive more share. What is not "fair" is that the ISP doles out the bandwith depending on how much they like the packet.

      ¹In the old days of co-ax this was all sorted out by collisions and retries. Ah cutting holes in co-ax to insert taps...

      ²This can fall down, like when some undergrads decided to use UDP to copy files across from the US instead of TCP, and flodded the Janet link for a whole weekend. Here is an example of where sharing the congestion works better than just deciding on packet flavour.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: When is Net Neutrality not Net Neutrality?

      "Instead, what seems to be happening is that the phrase is being used in the context of prioritising different types of traffic, and so refers to the situation where VoIP traffic is being prioritised over, say, Web browsing."

      That probably what Ofcom would like us all to think, so that when they give it the green light Joe Public will go "what a great idea", providing sufficient confusion that by the time they've cottoned on to the extra cash leaving their wallet/slower service, the whole thing will be a done and unstoppable deal.

      For the narrow purposes of what Ofcom claims to be trying to achieve, it would be fairer to say that traffic prioritisation is deployed to provide a fair and balanced quality of service for all users, whereas ending net neutrality is intended to do exactly the opposite, creating a 'pay to play' environment.

      Plusnet were way ahead of the curve on prioritisation several years ago and spent a good deal of time and words explaining it when it was met with inevitable suspicion. Many providers didn't exactly help the 'better service' notion along by using traffic management to cut costs with aggressive throttling - Virgin spring to mind.

      This is a very different animal to QoS traffic management, in intent if not in implementation, and for Ofcom to pass them off as the same thing is profoundly disingenuous.

  19. Alan Brown Silver badge

    obligatory cartoon explanation

  20. Mog0

    Prioritising by type - good, Prioritising by source - bad

    As far as I'm concerned, prioritising VOIP / Gaming / Video streams is a good thing as if my web page / e-mail takes an extra second to download due to congestion, I'm not going to be too bothered but if my video / audio stutters or if I get shot by someone I didn't see, I will be pi**ed off.

    On the other hand if ISPs start charging netflix or youtube or anyone else for access to networks I see this as completely wrong and this should be banned.

    The traffic should be prioritised by the latency sensitivity of the traffic because that is good for the consumer's experience but slowing down youtube to the point it's unusable because Google didn't give them any money is NOT in the customer's interests. This difference seems to be missed in most of the discussion I read. It's always, "traffic shaping is bad!!"

    Of course when the network is not congested, the priorities will make no difference as everything will just get straight through.

  21. d4rkside

    TBH they should quit with the unlimited crap and be more honest.

    Why not sell consumer broadband similarly to the way a lot of business broadband connections are done with a committed rate and a burst rate.

    We guarantee (low number here) at peak times but you may get up to shiny high number off peak. not only will this clear up any confusion it also negates the need for packet shaping as the isp knows exactly what the guaranteed limits payed for are and anything above that within the packages range is just gravy.

    It would also train people to shunt there big ass downloads to the wee hrs of the morning off peak times helping to even out load. and allow people to know exactly what quality they can stream there cat videos and netflix movies at.

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