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The Gateway to Hell
Friday 26 October 2001 13:46:00 by Andrew Ferguson

Perhaps Chris Rea should re-release his 'Road to Hell' M25 track to give some lyrical insight into the current issues on a number of ISP's Gateway routers.

A number of ISP's including in no great order, Freeserve, Demon, Zen, BTopenworld, Nildram and iomart have users all reporting problems with the first hop, i.e. the first TCP/IP interface seen beyond the ADSL modem. The situation shows up in different ways: for gamers, it's high latency (100ms-200ms) and levels of packet loss that in the worst situations make UDP gaming less fun than it should be; for general use the packet loss and latency appears to be impacting on download speeds as well.

Why has this happened to so many ISP's at once, well it's a problem that has been sneaking up slowly and the level of the problem varies according to the time of day, but users are finding there is no particularly hour which is perfect any more. The problem is believed to be down to the level of CPU load on the routers, i.e. unable to cope with the loading and this in some cases is before the ISP's have reached the 1600 user design limit. The situation is complicated by the fact that the router will manage to route some users successfully for periods of time and then give poor performance for a while, hence why two users on the same gateway can see differing performance levels to the same location.

What's been done about it - well different ISP's are doing different things, but the general consensus is a move to the 155Mbps gateway product, this supports in theory 4 times as many users, both number of sessions and bandwidth wise and a different hardware platform for the router which gives the ISP a lot more control of the gateway. No one is publishing exact dates for when the upgrades to the gateways will be installed - once ordered this is very much down to BTwholesale.

In the mean time what can be done - well users can help slightly, some of the CPU load is due to users logging on/off from the gateway, i.e. it's better to leave the connection logged on rather than open/close it as and when needed. Firewalls like ZoneAlarm allow you to keep the connection open but secure the PC when not using it. Also try not to target the gateway machine too heavily with diagnostics, e.g. ping utilities, better to find a less critical machine just beyond the router on your ISP's network if you want to monitor the connection - ask your ISP if they have any machines they dont mind people running ping against.

What are the ISP's doing, well there is discussion going on between them, and as information is passed onto us we will let users know - or the ISP can announce it in the forums. The ISP's are also working with BTwholesale to see what can be done in the short term as well prior to the various upgrades been added and to ensure the upgrades will perform to the levels expected.


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