The sharing of bandwidth from the telephone exchange and across the various networks out to the Internet is perhaps the biggest reason why broadband is affordable, and while the exact maths vary from country to country the calculations will take place across the world. When providers get these sums wrong you have complaints about slow or broken services, or alternatively you end up with a product that no-one wants to buy, finding the middle ground is a formula that every provider has to find out for itself.
Entanet who act as a wholesale provider to a number of broadband retailers has announced that a three week trial will start on Wednesday 4th November 2009 that uses a different technique to manage traffic volumes across their network. The full announcement has been posted on our forums in the Entanet section. The new system is set to see interactive type traffic be given the priority when the network is busy, currently Entanet run a system known as ALT(Anti Loss Tool) which can see speeds at peak times drop to 2Mbps. The idea behind the new system is to improve factors like latency which can affect many interactive services such as web browsing, video streaming, VoIP and hosted application access.
The statement reveals that Entanet are seeing around 10% of their users consuming capacity to such an extent it affects the other 90% of users. The applications cited are non-interactive bulk services, for example news groups and peer-to-peer. The trial is planned to last three weeks at which time feedback will be sought from partners and a decision made to return to the current system or adopt the new system.
Entanet is not the only provider that has been implementing changes as customers change how they use their broadband services, O2 announced the use of traffic management on its off-net products back in October 2009. Additionally Plusnet changed its product range when it launched its WBC based up to 20Mbps products towards the end of October 2009, by changing its Premium package from an 'unlimited' label to an 80GB usage allowance (overnight usage is not metered).
Some people had perhaps hoped that the new 21CN WBC products with the reductions in the cost of bandwidth at the wholesale level would be enough to see usage limits relaxed. Alas it seems perhaps the changes in prices are not enough to see a return to when broadband in the UK was almost all unlimited, which was the case several years ago. One problem is that the WBC products have limited coverage across the UK still, and there can be substantial costs for providers moving across to adopt the new products.
Another big factor is that usage by consumers keeps on growing, and while the numbers of people consuming 1000GB a month is very small (this was impossible with the broadband of 2000). What is happening is that websites are changing. Almost gone are the days of simple static webpages. Dynamically updating content is more common which can mean latency is more of an issue for web browsing and the rise of adverts with video embedded means a slow growth in usage even for those who have not started to use things like the various catch-up TV services. Another ongoing issue is the dependence on Internet delivered updates for operating systems, as anyone who has re-built a computer from the original manufacturer media will testify too, to get all the service packs and security fixes may consume 0.5GB or more.
Of course unlimited is not dead in the UK, there are a number of providers offering unbundled solutions where usage figures well above the UK average are still acceptable. This is currently down to a mixture of providers having access to cheaper bandwidth in the areas they have unbundled, and the original network investment may have scaled for a network of X million customers, and as they are not at that level yet there is still slack in the system.