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Traffic shaping, packet shaping and traffic throttling are some of terms that describe how Internet service providers manage Web traffic to delay some or all of datagrams travelling through a network in order to achieve a desired traffic profile.

The need to manage traffic to guarantee, performance, improve latency, allocate usable bandwidth and, of course, drive revenue for ISPs become increasingly important as the demand for bandwidth grows.

But while the problem has been around for years, providers seem to have not yet determined the-most appropriate way to manage traffic. However, network experts who this week discussed the issue at the annual ISP Summit in Toronto appear agree on what traffic management techniques don’t work, and which ones are at least worth exploring further.

Incenting customers to move their online activities to off-peak hours rather resorting to arbitrary measures to control traffic, appealed to a panel on the issue.

“One thing that doesn’t work is brute force where if the subscriber uses too much data, the operator says ‘I’ll just cut their data to something ridiculously low’ — that’s the kind of management that gets so much bad press,” said Bill Basquin, technology director for the Americas with Procera Networks Inc., “Traffic management is really about improving the subscriber experience, not about reducing capacity or reducing traffic on the network – that would be counter-productive to any service provider.”

Traffic management, however, remains very critical since some organizations and subscribers have access applications engineered to take full advantage of available bandwidth. Ideally, traffic management should “level the playing field.”

“When implemented properly, traffic management allows every subscriber equal attention for bandwidth and available resources,” said Basquin.

He has seen a general trend towards consumption-based billing.

Consumption-based billing includes offers such as so-called happy hours, apps-based plans and sponsored data. All serve different purposes but largely are geared to move traffic congestion from peak to off peak hours, said Basquin. “Operators architect their network for peak usage where 90 per cent of the day usage is well below capacity. Any plan to incent off-peak usage is a coming trend that will be successful.”

Lee Brooks, director of product marketing for deep packet inspection appliance maker Sandvine Inc. of Waterloo, Ont., agreed, but senses that “peak shifting” doesn’t appear to be gaining much momentum.

He said the only Canadian operator he has seen pursuing the method vigorously is Chatham, Ont.-based business and residential telecom TekSavvy Solutions Inc.

TekSavvy has a promotion called Zap the Cap that is available to any subscriber with a 300GB a month plan. It  allows subscribers to request for a voluntary reduction of service speed during the peak hours of 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. in exchange for unlimited bandwidth for 24 hours. Outside of the peak hours, the subscribers receive their full service speed.

Brooks said, the idea is probably still very new and subscribers have not yet got their heads wrapped around it.

“It seemed to me that the idea of transferring traffic to off-peak hours would appeal to operators, but I haven’t seen it catching on,” said Brooks. “It hasn’t taken off as quickly as I thought it would, but it’s probably an issue of perception and mentality.”

John Priest, senior product manager for the Americas with Allot Communications of Woburn, Mass., said increased used of analytics and virtualization technologies can also help operators better manage network traffic.

For example, software defined technology (SDN) in the telecom industry can improve the manageability and flexibility of networks. For instance, many large carriers are unable to provide customers truly flexible data networks where customers pay for only the bandwidth they use and automatically scale availability as applications require.

“If you can virtualize resources and put them in a form that can be viewed and analyzed, operators can determine when demands are rising and rapidly adjust capacity when it is needed,” said Priest.

The conference was put on by the Canadian Network Operators Consortium (CNOC), which represents many of the country’s independent ISPs.



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