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Thursday 23 Nov 2017 | 4 min read

Bandwidth throttling: What is it and why does it happen?

A finger pointing at a web of visualised connectivity nodules

You’ve probably heard of bandwidth throttling. It’s a common complaint and when it comes to ISP (Internet Service Provider) throttling, Australia has a proud tradition of annoying consumers with it. But what exactly is it, why do ISPs need to sometimes apply it, and if it is becoming a problem for you, what can you do to address it?

Understanding why ISPs apply bandwidth throttling can help you understand why network slowdowns happen. If you’re experiencing what you think is throttling, read on to find out what you might be able to do about it.

What is bandwidth throttling?

Bandwidth throttling involves deliberately slowing down available bandwidth, or intentionally reducing the speed that’s usually available on your internet connection. Throttling can happen at various points on the network: it can be applied on a local area network by the system administrator, or it can be applied at the ISP level by the ISP. The system administrator might apply throttling to minimise the risk of server crashes or network crowding. The ISP could use it to ease congestion and traffic.

Other parties can also use throttling. For example, an online games service might throttle access to ease congestion and server overload. A cloud provider might use throttling to slow down your access when you’re uploading a large number of files.

The usual purpose is to reduce stress on the network and improve equity of access. Throttling does slow individual user speeds, but it’s usually applied to ensure fair service for all users.

Bandwidth capping versus bandwidth throttling

Bandwidth throttling isn’t to be confused with bandwidth capping. Capping refers to the amount of data you can use over a given period, say a month. Your internet service plan might offer you unlimited data, which means you won’t be capped (but you run the risk of congestion) . However, if you have a fixed limit per month, say 100GB, the cap might kick in when you exceed that amount in downloads and uploads. So capping is about an agreed amount of data you’re allowed to use each month, while throttling is concerned with a slowdown in speed.

Bandwidth shaping versus bandwidth throttling

Bandwidth throttling is different from shaping. While shaping is also a slowdown in speed, shaping might be applied to your internet service once you’ve reached the cap each month. For example, your plan might have your ISP slowing down your access once you’ve hit your 100GB cap. When and how you connection is shaped will usually always be made clear to you; with throttling, it can be harder to tell.

How to tell if you’re being throttled

Internet users can find it a challenge to figure out whether they’re being throttled or shaped, or if it’s just network congestion. You might start asking yourself these questions if your internet has slowed down, or if your video streaming service is buffering. You might start wondering if there’s something wrong with your phone line or if someone in your household is using up all your bandwidth.

One way to tell if you’re being throttled is checking the times. If you’re regularly experiencing slowdowns at the same times of day and/or night, it’s possible you’re being throttled.

Another thing to check is the service you’re using. If you’re using a cloud service and it’s slowing down while regular access speeds apply to your other programs, it could be your cloud service provider is throttling your holiday photo upload to prevent network congestion. If the game you’re playing is slowing down while everything else is fine, it’s probably your game provider throttling to keep access at a reasonable speed for everyone.

What you can do about it

Throttling can be a frustrating experience, and short of changing ISPs to one committed not to throttle your internet like Aussie Broadband, you might only be able to do something about being throttled by checking your usage, reviewing how much streaming you use, and compressing your data.

Monitor usage

Check how much data you’re using so you can avoid exceeding any fair usage levels stated by your ISP. Check your contract and ask your ISP about any usage limits that might help you avoid throttling.

Review streaming services

If you use a lot of streaming services such as YouTube, Spotify, and Netflix, you might experience throttling more frequently than other users. Depending on your ISP, you might be able to reduce throttling by minimising or reducing the amount of streaming you do. Note the streaming service itself could also resort to throttling when there’s traffic congestion. Check with your streaming service for more information.

Reduce gaming

Gaming is commonly thought to take up a lot of bandwidth in a short period of time, but this is not quite true. Downloading games is what takes your data, not necessarily the playing itself. Pay attention to how much of your data is going towards downloading games. Whether your ISP throttles you or the gaming service throttles your access, you might be able minimise throttling if you reduced your downloads. Check with your ISP and gaming service provider for more information.

Compress your data

Use data compression tools to reduce bandwidth use and speed up your internet speed. For example, Chrome users have a range of data compression extensions to choose from. These are free to download from the Chrome Web Store and can help you save on data.

You can do the same for your phone by searching for apps designed to compress data. They can improve loading time and significantly reduce data usage.

Doing what you can to limit bandwidth throttling

Bandwidth throttling is a common practice among ISPs. It can be necessary to alleviate network congestion, prevent server overload, and other associated reasons. Switching to an ISP like Aussie Broadband that doesn’t throttle your internet could be the best way to avoid a frustrating ISP throttling experience.

Sick of being throttled?

Aussie Broadband is a leading ISP dedicated to ensuring our network performs at its best even during peak traffic times. Switch to Aussie Broadband today and never have to worry about being throttled again.

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Aussie Broadband

Editorial team

The Aussie Broadband Editorial team consists of copywriters, marketers, and subject matter experts across multiple fields. We aim to bring you the latest news, insights, and guides regarding everything internet, mobile, technology, and more...

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