Battling Network Throttling: Proven Methods to Regain Control of Your Internet Speed

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Network throttling intentionally slows internet speeds to manage congestion, while network prioritization assigns importance to different types of traffic. To avoid throttling, use a VPN, proxy server, upgrade your package, or switch ISPs. Prioritization techniques include QoS, CoS, and methods like MAC layer prioritization and VLAN tagging. Monitoring speed tests helps identify prioritization. Understanding these strategies helps manage throttling's impact and prioritize internet usage effectively.

Assume that after a long, tiring, and hectic week, you were looking forward to spending your weekend unwinding by watching a new web series or movie online. However, as you settled down to watch, you noticed an unexpected interruption in the form of buffering or a significant drop in download speed. This disruption caused the video to become stuck in the middle.

It’s possible that you have fallen victim to network throttling.

What Is Network Throttling?

Network throttling is a practice employed by internet service providers (ISPs) or local network administrators to intentionally slow down internet access speeds. It can occur due to various factors, including network traffic congestion, high user activity during peak hours, or excessive usage of certain services like torrent sites. It is typically observed in crowded areas with public Wi-Fi networks, such as schools, hotels, and airports.

When multiple devices are connected to the same local area network (LAN), it can strain the available bandwidth and result in reduced internet speeds or the implementation of throttling measures. This can negatively impact a significant portion of the target user base accessing a particular website or online service.

How To Detect Network Throttling?

If you notice slow internet browsing, decreased upload and download speeds, high latency in playing online games, and buffering in online music or video streaming, it could indicate network throttling.

Network throttling can be detected in a couple of ways:

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  • Using the network activity tool

Most browsers come with built-in network activity tools that allow users to inspect network requests and identify if their network is being throttled. These tools, often found in browser developer tools, provide features like network throttling. By testing apps or websites under a slow network setting, users can uncover and address issues related to load times.

  • Checking internet speed with and without VPN

Another method involves using an internet speed test website to measure network speed both with and without activating a VPN service. If the network speed is significantly higher when using the VPN compared to the original speed, it suggests that network bandwidth may be subjected to throttling.

Why Do ISPs Perform  Network Throttling?

ISPs perform network throttling for various reasons. Here are some common reasons:

  • Protecting users and controlling network traffic

ISPs may implement network throttling to safeguard their users from accessing malicious or harmful websites. By limiting the speed or access to certain sites, ISPs aim to enhance online security and protect users from potential threats.

  • Package pricing and tiered services

ISPs often offer different packages with varying speeds and data limits. Users who subscribe to higher-priced packages typically receive faster internet speeds, while those on lower-cost packages may experience network throttling to manage bandwidth allocation and ensure fair usage among customers.

  • Data caps and usage limitations

ISPs may enforce network throttling when users exceed their monthly data caps or allotted bandwidth limits. This helps regulate data consumption and prevents excessive usage that could strain the network’s capacity.

  • Reducing network congestion

During peak hours or when there is heavy user activity, network congestion can occur, leading to slower internet speeds for all users. To mitigate congestion and maintain a consistent level of service for everyone, ISPs may employ network throttling techniques.

How To Avoid Network Throttling?

To mitigate the impact of network throttling, you can consider the following approaches:

  • Use a VPN service: Utilizing a reliable VPN service can help encrypt your online activity and protect it from being monitored by your ISP.
  • Employ a proxy server: Proxy servers can act as intermediaries between your device and the websites you access, concealing your IP address and website history from your ISP.
  • Upgrade your internet package: Upgrading to a higher-tier internet package that offers faster bandwidth can help resolve network throttling issues.
  • Consider switching ISPs: If network throttling persists despite attempting other measures, exploring alternative ISPs that offer better service and more favorable network management practices can be a viable option.

What Is Network Prioritization?

Network prioritization is when an ISP assigns varying levels of importance to different types of internet traffic. This means that certain types of traffic, such as voice or video calls, are given higher priority and receive faster speeds compared to less critical traffic like email or heavy downloads.

By prioritizing specific types of traffic, ISPs can ensure that essential services operate smoothly even during periods of high internet traffic or congestion. However, it’s worth noting that ISPs may charge additional fees for providing this prioritization or “quality of service” (QoS) feature to customers.

How Does Network Prioritization Happen?

ISPs employ various methods to manage network traffic, and one popular method is QoS. With QoS, ISPs prioritize certain types of network traffic over others, giving more importance and priority to traffic involving voice-video calls and online gaming, compared to traffic associated with heavy downloads or email services.

This prioritization is sometimes referred to as Class of Service (CoS), as traffic is categorized into high, medium, and low priorities. Low-priority traffic may experience higher packet drop rates. Email services and web traffic are typically considered low-priority categories.

It’s important to note that CoS is a subset of QoS, so the two terms should not be confused. QoS encompasses a broader range of techniques and mechanisms for managing network traffic, while CoS specifically focuses on classifying and prioritizing traffic based on its importance.

In addition to QoS and CoS, prioritization techniques are also utilized by multiprotocol routers to classify protocols running within the network.

Prioritization/CoS Methods

  • MAC layer prioritization

In a shared LAN infrastructure using traditional Ethernet technology, nodes or terminals contend for access to the network based on a first-come, first-serve principle. When multiple nodes attempt to access the network simultaneously, they experience collisions and are put on hold.

Switched Ethernet improves this situation by providing dedicated connections between nodes and switch ports. Switches utilize data frames that include MAC addresses to facilitate efficient forwarding of traffic.

The IEEE has developed a method to incorporate a tag into the MAC-layer frame, which contains bits that define the CoS for the frame. This tagging scheme allocates three bits within an Ethernet frame to identify and differentiate the class of service. It helps prioritize certain types of traffic and enables better management of network resources.

Token ring networks, another type of LAN technology, use a prioritization method where tokens contain a reservation bit indicating priority. This allows nodes to indicate their level of priority when accessing the network through the token-passing mechanism.

  • VLAN Tagging and 802.1p  

The IEEE 802.1Q standard defines a frame-tagging scheme that enables the insertion of a tag into an IEEE MAC-layer frame. This tag serves to indicate the membership of the frame in a specific virtual LAN (VLAN). It allows for the logical segmentation of networks into multiple VLANs, enabling improved network management and control of traffic.

The VLAN tag includes three bits specifically dedicated to specifying the priority level of the frame. These three bits offer eight different priority levels, allowing for the differentiation of frames based on their class of service or importance.

  • Network Layer Prioritization   

The IP packet header contains a section known as ToS (Type of Service). This field has recently been adopted to work in conjunction with the IETF’s Differentiated Services (Diff-Serv) method. Diff-Serv involves the categorization and marking of packets.

As per the policy, network devices configure and read the ToS bit. Since IP is an internetworking protocol, Diff-Serv is applicable across various networks, including service provider networks that support the service. It enables the support of CoS on the Internet, extranets, and intranets.

Additionally, there is an option for paid prioritization. In this approach, content providers pay ISPs for faster content delivery to their customers. Furthermore, customers who pay higher fees to their ISP can receive higher priority over other network traffic.

How to Escape Network Prioritization?

Running a speed test can indeed provide valuable information about the performance of an internet connection. If certain websites or apps consistently run faster than others within the same network, it may indicate network prioritization by the ISP.

Anyone can use any network monitoring tool or website to check internet connection status and speed over time. A substantial difference in the network speed between websites and apps indicates network prioritization.

If an individual is dissatisfied with the network prioritization implemented by their ISP, they have two options:

  • Changing ISP
  • Filing a complaint

The Bottom Line

ISPs and network administrators utilize various methods to manage network traffic, including network throttling and network prioritization.

Network throttling involves intentionally reducing the network bandwidth speed for a certain period. It is often used to address network congestion or allocate resources fairly among users. By temporarily slowing down the network, ISPs can prevent excessive strain and maintain a reasonable level of service.

Network prioritization, on the other hand, assigns different levels of importance or priority to specific types of traffic. This allows essential services, such as voice or video calls, to receive preferential treatment and faster speeds compared to less time-sensitive traffic. Network prioritization aims to ensure the smooth operation of critical applications even during periods of high network congestion.

Understanding these network speed control strategies can be helpful in managing the effects of network throttling and prioritization.

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Kuntal Chakraborty
Technology Writer
Kuntal Chakraborty
Technology Writer

Kuntal Chakraborty is an Information Technology Engineer by profession and education and the founder of Philarity.com. He has rich technical expertise working as a Systems Engineer and Network Engineer at Siemens and Atos. Kuntal has also worked in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) domains in different roles. Besides, he has a deep interest in Cyber security and published a few articles on it in some international publications. He has also created and successfully published some Alexa skills as a part of Amazon Alexa crowd developer community.