Update 3rd April 2006: ntl has now removed the traffic shaping clause from the terms and conditions. For more on this latest change see CableForum.co.uk once more. The clause is described as a work in progress, that should not have appeared on the ntl website. The Cable Forum team are passing on the news also that ntl has stressed that currently no traffic shaping is in force.Original news item as posted 10:10am 3rd April 2006
Traffic Shaping is something that seems to make many people run for the hills, and ntl with its large cable modem market with connections running at up to 10Mbps is one of the latest providers to start using it. More detail can be seen over on CableForum.co.uk.
Apparently some cable broadband customers believe they are seeing the effects of the shaping, which seems to be confined to the hours of 6pm to 11pm. The shaping proposed by ntl is to target less time-sensitive traffic and give it a lower share of the total bandwidth, to free up capacity for services like standard web browsing, gaming and VoIP.
Traffic shaping can be complex to implement, and very often when a provider starts using it you see a lot of rapid changes as the systems are tuned. One big problem is that how people collectively use the Internet can vary greatly, for example a big university town will often have a lower usage during the summer vacation than in the long winter nights of the first term. This can mean people see performance drop markedly for some applications, and if an ISP does not tweak the settings quickly this leads to complaints about very poor performance.
To some extent as an individuals connection becomes ever faster the need for providers to manage the types of traffic increases, no matter what the basic broadband technology is. The key is to communicate the implementation in a very simple and easy to understand way, and to let customers and support staff know before it is implemented. A very commonly held view among ISP customers is that traffic shaping lets an ISP cram more people onto the same amount of capacity, thus keeping the costs the same but increasing revenue, but an ISP needs to be careful when doing this to not reduce the perceived quality of service otherwise customers will move elsewhere. Given that the UK has a highly competitive retail broadband sector this can mean lots of customers leaving.
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