Optimizing Your Bandwidth Usage

Written by: Andrew McCracken, Solutions Engineer at SolutionInc.

More than ever today, we place a growing strain on the capacity of our Internet connections. Multimedia content rich applications such as Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Social Media and downloads account for the majority of data usage. According to Forbes, Netflix alone consumes 15% of the world’s Internet bandwidth. Not to be outdone, the venerable BitTorrent protocol accounts for 22% of upstream bandwidth usage. This puts a strain on service provider infrastructure, but what about in the home and your own experience?

The average US home Internet connection sits at a meagre 18.7Mbps, ranking the US as only the 10th fastest in the world. If you consider that Netflix recommends a capacity of 5Mbps per 1080p stream and recommends 25Mbps per 4K stream, you can see that it does not take long to exhaust your available Internet resources. Particularly, if other activities such as browsing, downloading and gaming are occurring within parallel. Unfortunately, increasing Internet capacity may not always be as easy as contacting your ISP (internet service provider) to request an upgrade. Factors such as local capacity, age of infrastructure and your own personal finances may impact the ability to simply add more.

Upon saturating your Internet connection, a number of adverse impacts can be observed. Video can buffer and quality of the image will drop; VoIP calls will jitter, delay or drop parts of the conversation altogether and latency spikes can be observed in online games. One solution is to manage the traffic and the available Internet capacity that you have as to optimize and facilitate the best experience for all devices, applications and users on the network.

Many routers and access points have the ability to implement some sort of QoS (quality of service). This may allow you to prioritize certain devices at a minimum and if available, manage specific applications as to prevent them from hogging all of the data.

  • If you have an old PC in the closet and are somewhat tech savvy, consider building your own router using a free firewall distribution that will allow you to exert even more control on your network and in some cases, control down to the application level. Popular distributions include Untangle, Zeroshell and pfSense and will allow varying degrees of queue and application control.
  • If experiencing buffering, consider turning down the bitrates of your streaming video. For example, step down from a 1080p stream to a lower bitrate 720p stream on a YouTube video to see if that makes a difference at a slight cost to video quality.
  • Consider limiting the number of simultaneous streams and/or limit other bandwidth intensive activities from occurring in parallel. Looking to download a new program, movie, online backups or operating system updates? Wait until you are done streaming before executing on these activities. The overall video experience and later download/upload speeds for your other applications will improve.
  • Cannot get a speed increase from one provider? Consider purchasing an additional cost-effective Internet connection and bond two internet connections together. Keep in mind that your router will need to support multiple WAN and that an additional cost will be incurred with the addition of a second connection.

With a few changes in behavior, in combination with some free software you can greatly improve your Internet experience and squeeze the most of your Internet resources allowing you to achieve a balanced and enjoyable experience.

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