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Traffic management - also known as traffic shaping - is a technique used by broadband providers to prioritise, ration and even restrict how networks and connections are used by customers like you. This is done to ensure a smooth-running service, even when a lot of are people using the internet at the same time.
It might sound about as easy to get your head around as the Large Hadron Collider, but it’s actually a pretty simple concept.
Think of broadband as a motorway. When the ‘motorway’ gets congested, traffic management is like a priority lane that keeps certain types of traffic moving. The kind of traffic that’s prioritised differs from provider to provider, but in general things like streaming video content - watching EastEnders on BBC iPlayer, for example - are given right of way to keep it from buffering or cutting out.
Traffic that doesn’t necessarily need to get anywhere quickly, like downloading movies and music, is usually kept to the regular lanes during peak times - rush hour if you will - as is light traffic like emails, which can get to its destination without needing a lot of space on the road, kind of like a motorbike.
However, remember that every broadband provider’s traffic management policy is different. Some providers traffic manage their entire network, meaning if you are constantly downloading really big files, say high-definition (HD) films, you may see the speed of your connection restricted during peak times to keep things moving for other people with the same provider.
Others only prioritise traffic on individual connections, so if you’re downloading a Blu-ray-quality film on your laptop and then start playing GTA 5 - Grand Theft Auto V to you non-gamers - online on your Xbox, the former may be slowed down so you can do the latter without it pausing or cutting out. However, what others do online won’t affect you.
Traffic management policies apply to most broadband packages. If you want to see your broadband provider’s traffic management policy, you can find links to those of the major providers in the UK below.
Confused by broadband blurb in general? Then have a butcher’s at our super-easy to understand broadband jargon buster.
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