Traffic Shaping: The Icing on Your Network Cake

Traffic Shaping blog header image

by | August 22, 2022 | WISP Tips

Traffic Shaping Software and Your Network

The relationship between traffic shaping software and your network is kind of like adding icing to the proverbial cake.

Traffic shaping, like icing, is nice to have and can be the perfect finishing touch for your network creation. It’s a crowd-pleaser that makes everything a little sweeter, but a well-made cake would still taste pretty good without it.

When essential network QoE ingredients are missing, however, like healthy access points and good RF conditions, even the best traffic shaping software won’t prevent a poor experience and a bad taste in your subscribers’ mouths.

Traffic shaping is a tasty ingredient in your network’s recipe for success. It can only be effective, however, as part of an overall strategy for network health.

Person adding icing to a cake

What is Traffic Shaping?

Traffic shaping is a bandwidth management tool that arranges and prioritizes the flow of packets on a network to ensure an optimal user experience.

It’s important because ISPs want to provide the best experience for their subscribers even (and especially) when their networks are busy.

Traffic management is also essential because of things like link saturation. This is a typical cause of a poor subscriber experience that triggers slow-internet complaints. Link saturation happens when network links are used beyond 80% of their capacity, causing latency to rise sharply and slow everything down for subscribers.

Link saturation also leads to the dreaded Bufferbloat. When a link gets full, all the buffers associated with that link also get full. You then get a spike in latency and packet loss, as well as a poor experience for the subscriber.

Network hardware rarely supports dynamic buffers, or active queue management, due to historic hardware costs and algorithmic complexity. As a result, even a well-made, healthy network will likely need some kind of traffic shaping software.

Active Queue Management Takes Care of Traffic Shaping

When network elements like access points (APs) reach their capacity, subscriber QoE degrades. This happens because these devices implement buffering with simple FIFO (first in, first out) queues. These increase latency and eventually lead to packet loss when the outgoing link reaches capacity.

At Preseem, we use modern active queue management (AQM) techniques based on the FQ-CoDel algorithm. Using AQM means your network will deliver a great subscriber experience even when a link is busy. Our network traffic management can be deployed on one or both of the subscriber plan and the AP levels.

Family relaxing on the couch together and using multiple devices

We refer to this as QoE optimized plan enforcement. This ensures that a subscriber hitting the limit of their plan continues to get a good experience. Concretely, this solves problems like games or Zoom calls not working when other members of the household watch streaming video or download large files.

Preseem handles traffic management for our broadband network. It does a fantastic job of getting the most capacity out of our systems and has made a huge improvement in the broadband experience for all of our customers.
Matt Larsen

CEO, Vistabeam

AQM Improves Efficiency and Reduces Slow-Internet Calls

To keep our baking metaphor going, think of AQM as the most efficient way to apply your icing. In fact, it’s more like having a professional chef take care of it for you. That’s because AQM is a set-it-and-forget-it traffic shaping technique that you never have to worry about or spend any time on.

By automatically separating and prioritizing interactive flows (e.g. online gaming, video calls) over bulk flows (e.g. system updates, Netflix), AQM ensures lower latency and means a really good experience for the subscriber, even under heavy load. This solves link saturation and packet buffering problems altogether.

There are many packet shaping methods out there, which we took a close look at in our recent bandwidth management blog. These include bandwidth bursting, deep packet inspection, application-specific rate limiting, and TCP acceleration. These are all essentially band-aid solutions, however, that try to address underlying network issues reactively and that often require specialized knowledge and skills.

Here at Preseem, our goal is to help you address these underlying issues proactively. That way, you can drop AQM into a clean network and have peace of mind that everything is running smoothly in the background. Your support team will also notice less slow-internet calls because the issues that cause them are being taken care of before they become a problem.

Prior to having Preseem in our network, speed control was a nightmare and customers were always complaining of slow internet speeds. After Preseem was put in, those complaints have dropped to almost none. Preseem also gives us good tools to use to diagnose network issues and usage habits. It is a vital part of our network.
Steve Barnes

Vice-President of Operations, NLBC

Optimize Your Network Health First

As mentioned above, all the delicious icing in the world won’t make a cake taste good if essential ingredients are missing and the baker hasn’t followed the recipe.

It’s the same with traffic management. If your network is rife with overloaded APs or poor RF conditions, the underlying issues that cause poor QoE will still affect your subscribers.

One way to optimize the health of your network is to identify the parts of your network that may be responsible for poor QoE, such as towers, APs, and individual subscriber connections.

For individual subscribers, it’s important to be able to measure high granularity network metrics from the actual traffic of each IP address. This provides a truly accurate measurement of QoE, as opposed to pinging network elements.

It also provides insight into key QoE data such as latency, loss, and transmission throughput. In Preseem, we tie these metrics to your network topology so that you can isolate any issues, then prioritize and address them.

Diagram showing how Preseem fits into a network

Keep Your Network Healthy

Keeping your network healthy also requires real-world performance information for elements like APs, as opposed to guesswork or industry spec sheets. Our system collects metrics from hundreds of deployments, tens of thousands of APs, and hundreds of thousands of subscribers. We then use that data to build a performance model for every AP type and configuration. These models are then used to provide context, AP comparisons, and scores.

In practice, this means that you can do things like:

  • Identify CPE radios or subscribers doing the most damage to AP capacity and QoE
  • Find out which APs have available capacity and which are oversubscribed
  • Get real-time updates on airtime, link rates, and RF conditions across the network
  • Identify changes in RF performance over time without having to stare and compare at multiple systems

With solutions like these in place, you can then investigate the areas of the network that are likely to cause problems, and fix them proactively. This will help increase customer satisfaction, make life easier for your support team, and reduce subscriber churn. Now that’s a delicious combination!

We use Preseem to shape our customer traffic and monitor the overall health of the network. It’s a great tool to enforce your different speed tiers without sacrificing significant resources. Preseem is also an amazing tool to help with troubleshooting. You can identify if issues are AP, tower, or network-specific with an easy-to-use GUI that graphs all of the relevant data points for your network.
Lou Elliott

CEO, Streamline

Parents and child using tablet

Packet Shaping Works Best on a Healthy Network

It’s important to understand that traffic shaping really only works when the underlying access network is in good shape.

Traffic management on its own is not QoE. For example, you can’t expect traffic shaping to help if an AP is out of airtime, because the AP itself is dropping many packets.

However, if you have the tools to identify, analyze, and fix network issues like this, and then combine these with a modern traffic shaping solution, that’s when you can have the biggest impact on subscriber QoE.

By taking care of network issues proactively, you can scale better with less expertise, get full value from the equipment and resources you already have, and provide your customers with a superior quality of experience.

That’s why we think of traffic shaping as the icing on the cake—it makes a good thing even better but needs a well-made base to be at its most effective.

If you’d like the recipe for a healthy network, book a demo with us and get started on a free 30-day trial whenever you’re ready!

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