Is Your Telecom Operator Purposefully Slowing Broadband Speeds?

by Yuyutsu Sen on November 15, 2011

Data intensive applications like large file or video downloads taking a long time or web pages getting hung up is not uncommon. Most users are uncertain whether the problem lies in the device, the website or the telecommunications operator. According to the Max Planck Institute of Software Systems’ Networked Systems Research Group head Krishna Gummadi, more often than not, telecom operators are responsible for putting brakes on the net surfing speeds. The sorting technique used to keep traffic flowing on a network by reducing broadband speed is known as throttling.

Gummadi along with Marcel Dischinger created software to assess whether or not a telecom operator was throttling broadband service in 2008. The duo named this software ‘Glasnost’ meaning openness in Russian. The free software has been downloaded by over 1.5 million people across the globe. To detect throttling, the software makes use of the Bit Torrent file sharing protocol to imitate data transfers and evaluates whether downloads and uploads are being selectively slowed down by the operator. Glasnost is effective for testing the services offered by landline broadband providers, but does not work on all smartphones.

Although the fact that operators use throttling is confirmed in their standard service contracts, they are averse to discussing it. Glasnost sheds light on this practice. As many as 121,247 tests were carried out from January to October and their results confirm that the practice is used by operators across the world. As the size of sample varies from one operator to another, the results of the tests are not representative. In case of small operators the sample size can be as small as hundred, while it can run into thousands in case of bigger ones. There is also a 4%-5% chance of the software indicating false positive. However, the results give an idea about the over usage of the practice.

Globally throttling was detected in 32% of tests, which is higher than the US average of 23%. US telecom operators with higher level of throttling include Clearwire Communication (35%) and Insight Communications (38%). Tests run on AT&T’s consumer broadband network WorldNet Services and business network SBIS-AS AT&T Internet Service indicated 30% and 18% throttling respectively. In case of Verizon’s landline network, the practice was detected in 18% of tests.

In Europe, the practice was most commonly used in Britain. Tests carried out on BT’s British regional network indicated throttling in 74% cases. Other British operators like Pipex, Telewest Broadband, Carphone Warehouse Broadband Service, Opal Telecom, Tiscali U.K. and NTL also indicated slowing in over 50% of tests. The practice seems to be less common in France and Germany. Slowing was detected in less than 21% and 16% of tests respectively in these countries.

Most telecom operators resort to throttling to ensure that all customers receive a reasonable level of service. As the capacity of mobile phone networks is much lower than landline grids, the practice is more common in case of the former. With more and more customers opting for super fast broadband, operators will have to make further investments as throttling will not be sufficient to maintain a reasonable level of service.

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Written by: Yuyutsu Sen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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