In the two weeks since Plusnet announced it was to take action against some of the heaviest downloaders on its service, the Plusnet section of our BBS has been ablaze with posts by Plusnet users and staff. Opinions are very divided amongst the users as to whether Plusnets action is right and fair.
The 240 people that Plusnet identified as the heaviest users, made up 0.3% of the total ADSL user base of around 80,000 users at Plusnet. The amount of traffic these people consumed was between 140GB and 600GB per month, which amounted to around 10% of the total traffic due to ADSL users. The average download across the industry per month is around 7GB. To give some idea of how much traffic this is, the absolute maximums possible in a 31 day period are shown below:
On Monday 29th November, Plusnet actually implemented what has become known as the 'bad boys pipe'. This effectively separated off the heavier users from the remaining 99.7% of the network users, so that the heavy users would be contending with each other, and with a contention ratio still well within the service parameters. To ensure that the service did not crawl to a halt, a Quality of Service system was implemented. Initial reactions from users were that the new pipe was giving very poor performance, though this is likely to be simply down to the contention between the various users. The QoS system used was apparently limiting the bandwidth available for certain services, for example newsgroups were downloading at around 5KB/sec (KiloByte/sec). Other services would appear to be running OK, though due to the heavy overall throughput latency and therefore online gaming seemed to be adversely affected.
We should stress that performance for the remaining 99.7% of Plusnet users is running as per normal, only those in the 240 who Plusnet have identified and emailed are affected by the QoS system.
Plusnet on Tuesday, sent out an email to around 25 of the people moved to the 'bad boys pipe', which said that they were being moved back onto the normal pipes, as part of the management of the system. A full copy of the email is shown below:
Many service providers will be watching the very public actions of Plusnet. A lot of service providers keep very tight lipped over the management of their platforms, and often the use of QoS controls is invisible to users. As the average line speed of broadband connections increases though QoS measures are going to become more common, to avoid the small percentage of users consuming vast swathes of bandwidth. 2004 has brought this to a head, with the introduction of CBC and UBC pricing, which can make services cheaper, but it can also be more expensive to provide unlimited connections.
One interesting point, is that some industry groups are lobbying Ofcom, because they think the new CBC pricing may squeeze their ability to offer Datastream based services cheaper than the standard BT IPStream products. So while many ISPs want the costs for bandwidth from the BT Group to reduce, there are others that want it higher, so that they can continue to grow their market share. The problem for Ofcom is deciding what is in the interest of the users of the various broadband services, and the UK broadband market.
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