Traffic management policies are used by the majority of broadband providers to make sure customers get the best possible online experience, even at peak times when more people are using the internet.
But although traffic management affects the vast majority of broadband users, many consumers don't understand what it means for them.
What is traffic management?
Traffic management involves slowing down data that isn't speed-critical, such as emails or downloads, to make sure services like internet phone calls, online gaming, or streaming video services run smoothly.
Traffic management is usually applied at peak times, such as evenings and weekends. However, some providers manage certain types of traffic - like peer-to-peer filesharing services - at all times because they use so much bandwidth.
Traffic management policies are also used to curb the online activities of the heaviest downloaders on a provider's network, though this usually only affects a small number of customers.
Traffic management by provider
Most providers use some form of traffic management measures:
- BT broadband traffic management - For customers on any of BT's Unlimited packages, there are no speed restrictions applied no matter how much you upload or download, even at peak times. For customers with other packages, BT (www.BT.com) may slow down particular activities at certain time, for example, peer to peer file sharing. In addition, it may priorities more time sensitive forms of web traffic, like streaming video and online telephony. BT defines "peak times" as between 4pm and 12pm on weekdays and between 9am and 12pm on weekends.
- Virgin Media traffic management - If a user is downloading or uploading a lot of data, Virgin Media (www.Virginmedia.com) may slow down his or her connection. For customers on a 30Mb or faster package, traffic management will be applied if you exceed your threshold (reducing your speed initially by 30%), however, if you reduce your usage as soon as you enter traffic management, you will only be subject to a reduction in speed for 60 minutes. If you don't, you may be in traffic management for 2 hours or more or see further reductions in your speed. Virgin Media monitor customer usage Mon-Fri 4pm-11pm and on weekend from 11am to 11pm.
- TalkTalk traffic management - During peak hours - between 6pm and midnight on weekdays and weekends - TalkTalk (www.Talktalk.co.uk) slows filesharing traffic to ensure an optimum service to all users. It also prioritises certain types of activities for customers on its TalkTalk Plus package, including gaming, audio and video streaming and instant messaging.
- O2 broadband traffic management - O2 (www.O2.co.uk) limits the speeds of filesharing and video streaming only. The speed you'll get depends on the package you are subscribed to. The Basics, which is aimed at light users, manages traffic throughout the day, and slows it down further at peak times (between 4pm and midnight on weekdays and 12pm to midnight at weekends). The All Rounder package also has traffic management measures, but offers faster speeds than the Basics. The Works package doesn't limit video streaming at all and only slows filesharing traffic during peak times.
- EE (formerly Orange) - During peak hours (6pm to 11.30pm on weekdays and 5pm to 11.30pm on weekends), EE (www.EE.co.uk) prioritises activities like making phone calls online and video streaming, and slows filesharing.
- Plusnet - Like many other providers, Plusnet (www.Plus.net) slows down filesharing, and prioritises other activities, such as online telephony . Other activities, such as gaming, streaming video and downloading are either limited or prioritised based on your package. As you'd expect, the more expensive packages will give you a better online experience.
- Sky - Through its Everyday Lite and Unlimited packages, Sky (www.Sky.com) is the only provider that doesn't manage traffic on its network.