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Traffic management catches up with mobile broadband
Friday 13 November 2009 15:09:09 by Andrew Ferguson

Customers using the 3 mobile broadband services from Monday 16th November may start to experience traffic management, although, if the information on The Register is correct it is only P2P applications that will be restricted. How many use P2P on a mobile dongle is unclear, but it seems it is enough to affect the amount of capacity available to be shared with other customers.

The traffic management is meant to only affect those on a congested cell, so we presume this will most likely mean those in the larger cities, airports, train stations and other areas where you find lots of people with mobile broadband congregating.

3 may be the first mobile broadband provider to twitch, but with the rising allowances and falling prices for mobile broadband it was clear that at some point all the mobile broadband providers would have to either adjust their packages, or implement some form of traffic management. Traffic management on landline broadband has been around for almost as long as ADSL has been widely available in the UK. It is implemented in varying ways with some providers being coy about it and others open to the point where it can confuse some customers.

We expect that in time the various cheap bundle deals for mobile broadband will experience higher levels of traffic management, and those willing to pay more will get more capacity during peak times. Mobile broadband has been hailed as something that will over take fixed line broadband, but while it seems likely many consumers will have a mobile broadband dongle, this will invariably be in addition to a fixed line service.

What fixed line broadband and mobile broadband have in common are requirements to get the data traffic from a local aggregation point (cell tower, cabinet or telephone exchange) onto a fibre backbone that links to the Internet. These costs are going to largely be similar for all technologies, however mobile masts may be able to provide an additional solution of using fixed wireless for the local backhaul.

The next few weeks will be interesting as there is a track record of traffic management not performing as expected when broadband providers implement it, for example people using P2P may shift to other ways of getting the files they seek such as usenet newsgroups and file hosting sites. One growing issue for those carrying out traffic management will be a growth in the use of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) which are invariably used by business users, but there are signs that P2P users are switching to this method to hide their traffic and may be downloading data abroad and then transferring it to their computer across the VPN.


Posted by herdwick over 7 years ago
"Mobile broadband has been hailed as something that will over take fixed line broadband" - not by anyone numerate it hasn't, the bandwidth simply does not exist due to spectrum limitations and finite Mbits/s per MHz.
Posted by cjbell68 over 7 years ago
That probably won't stop the government seeing it as a handy solution to propose for the 2mbit USO.
Posted by otester over 7 years ago
I currently use Vodafone and get a minimum of 1Mbps at any time, going all the way up to 2.6Mbps in the evenings (9pm+)
Posted by EnglishRob over 7 years ago
I use Vodafone and Three and I'm lucky to get 3G where I am. I was in the middle of Torquay town centre earlier too and got very good 3G reception, but the data service was all but useless, it kept timing out and when it did work it was very slow (only slightly faster than GPRS). So hopefully this will make a difference. I guess I'm lucky that I mainly use my phone for calls and texts, and not so much for Internet access.

Posted by shaunhw over 7 years ago
Huh ?

I thought it was heavily managed already judging by the speeds I get on my Apple iPhone.
It's not even broadband most of the time in my humble opinion.

It's ok for Googling whilst you are out and about I suppose, but not for any kind of heavier use.

Posted by timmay over 7 years ago
I really don't know how anyone can use P2P on mobile broadband from 3 as the upload is only 64k! I'm all for traffic management on mobile networks as long as all the normal things still work. I wish they would increase the upload and finish upgrading the remaining 3G/1.8Mbps HSDPA areas to 3.6~7.2 Mbps HSDPA.
Posted by otester over 7 years ago

You're with a cheap company so you can't complain much, if you want better speeds you're going to have to pay for it.

The 3UK mast near me is only 384Kbps still lol so you're lucky.
Posted by timmay over 7 years ago
@otester I'm not with 3 I just know what their network is like as I've used it in the past.
Posted by chrysalis over 7 years ago
only p2p often means alot more than p2p since isps to try and stop p2p tend to just throttle all non http/email traffic.
Posted by whatever2 over 7 years ago
If I can get a 3.5g tower, or even a 3g then the speeds are respectable... but away from that I may as well not bother.

I guess for those sitting on a 3.5g at home, it's viable.
Posted by otester over 7 years ago
I think the "finite Mbits per MHz" isn't really an excuse.

The technology exists to use the available spectrum more efficiently, hence:

2G -> 2.5G -> 3G -> 3.5G -> 3.75G (LTE) -> 4G (Advanced LTE)

Also pricing and realistic advertising in regards to expected speed can help solve the problem of congestion.

It's the same with landlines, expensive providers in most cases offer vastly improved speeds over their cheaper competitors.
Posted by AndrueC over 7 years ago
@otester:It's an excuse alright - the question is how good of one. There most definitely is a finite limit to the bandwidth per MHz I just don't know what it is. But considering that a typical urban mast might be carrying traffic for thousands of people it'd have to be pretty impressive. Then there's the backhaul.

1Gb/s backhaul off a mast shared between 1,000 people is only 1Mb/s average.
Posted by Dixinormous over 7 years ago
You're having a laugh 1Gbps backhaul from a mast, more like 10Mbps at best and 2Mbps SDSL in a lot of cases :)
Posted by otester over 7 years ago

Almost all providers in the UK have 3 UTMS channels available to them, not sure how many GPRS/EGPRS (EGDE) channels there are but I have added them for reference purposes.

The following is bandwidth (Mbps) per channel:

GPRS = 0.064
EGRPS (EDGE) = 0.128-0.256

UTMS = 0.384
HSDPA = 1.8 / 3.6 / 7.2 / 14.4 / 21 / 28 / 42

Posted by otester over 7 years ago
ISP minimums:

O2 (3.6) = 0.4Mbps
Vodafone (14.4) = 1Mbps

If providers goes with 42Mbps, we are looking at a minimum of 4Mbps peak being 10Mbps+ (I get 2.5M+ after 9pm in multiple areas).

So with LTE being 100Mbps per channel, judging by these stats, Vodafone could do (100/42+2.381*10=) ~24Mbps, taking on current ADSL2+ with good ping as well which LTE offers.

I think a minimum of 24Mbps is pretty damn good!
Posted by AndrueC over 7 years ago
Thanks for that information but perhaps I'm not understanding - how do you derive that minimum without mentioning the number of people?

I can fully accept that a mast that only serves a goat herder half way up a mountain can offer a blistering service. What I'm wondering about is a more typical mast serving a town with perhaps 1,000 people active?
Posted by otester over 7 years ago

Problem with calculating per person is that is assuming each person is using their full portion, ie: if a 7.2Mbps channel is only available, 2 people on the mast, but 1 only uses 2Mbps, that means the other is free to consume the other 5.2Mbps or both could only use 1.5Mbps each leaving 4.2Mbps free.

Most users will be callers using ~0.05Mbps each.
Posted by otester over 7 years ago
I just go by the minimum I get consecutively (10 minute period) for each provider.

I've also used multiple mobile broadband providers in different places to get an accurate idea (I travel a lot).

In my experience, cities tend to balance out the same as rural (village) areas as urban masts have the newer technology albeit more users.
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