In todays heavily connected world bandwidth demands and connected devices in homes continues to grow all the time. And as the demand grows so does the likelihood of network congestion. What settings do router manufacturers provide to help manage congestion in busy households with a lot of internet use?
Quality of Service settings are an excellent way of managing traffic and bandwidth demands on home networks, but unfortunately they do not tend to be offered as standard on many ISP’s routers. This is a big miss on the part of the ISPs and router manufacturers as traffic management and reducing congestion is a crucial issue on many home networks. Lets look at why below.
Network Congestion is Built Into Wi-Fi
The fundamental way that wifi is structured and works leaves it open to problem of network congestion, especially in devices where a lot of devices are connecting wirelessly at once. As well as wifi signals unavoidably weakening over distance from the router as per the Inverse Square Law of physics, wifi also operates on what is known as a half duplex system.
What this means is that all devices on a wireless home network can only send OR receive data at any one time, but not both. Moreover, only one device at a time can send or receive and not all simultaneously. This obviously means that devices have to “wait in line” whilst the router “juggles” their traffic requests.
Wifi Operates on Half Duplex, meaning it can only send OR receive data at any point in time but not both simultaneously
A good analogy of half duplex system is to remember the old school phones where only one person could talk at once, after which they would signal for the other person to speak, communicating in turns. Obviously it took longer for the exchange of information to happen and it is the same with traffic on wireless home networks.
This can be especially problematic in high internet use households where there are lots of devices trying to use the wifi at the same time. Because of the half duplex nature of wifi, only one device can be dealt with at once and that can lead to delays in traffic being sent, leading to buffering in video playback, lag in gaming and slower download speeds.
Dual band Wi-Fi has somewhat helped to alleviate this problem by spreading wireless traffic demands over two separate bands or “spaces” along the RF spectrum, which can mean that less devices are fighting over each individual band.
The bands are most commonly 2.4GHz and 5GHz and dual band routers allow you to configure these bands so you can spread devices out over them if you wish.
Ideally though the best solution to avoid network congestion is to use an ethernet cable rather than WiFi to connect any devices that are doing things which use a lot of bandwidth or need low latency, such as games consoles and anything streaming video or films online.
Ethernet cables run on full duplex, meaning they can send and receive data simultaneously with no problems and therefore avoid the problems of network congestion that wifi users can run into.
Each ethernet port on a router offers a dedicated commmunications channel to whatever device is connected to that port so ethernet connections are the way to go for bandwidth hungry devices and games consoles.
A powerline adapter is an excellent next best alternative for those who are too far away from their router to run an ethernet cable directly. These consist of a pair of adapters which communicate through the electrical wiring of the house to create a strong wired internet connection without needing to run long ethernet cables through the house. See our page on them for more information.
How Quality of Service Can Help With Network Congestion
However, regardless of whether we are using wired or wireless connections, the best way of managing congestion on a home network is to implement Quality of Service (QoS) settings on your router if available.
Quality of Service settings are basically a way of instructing your router to process traffic in a certain way to prioritise certain devices and reduce congestion on a home network.
Quality of Service settings instruct your router to process traffic to and from different devices in a specific order rather than in random order. In this way devices that need the most bandwidth or the least latency, such as streaming and gaming, can be dealt with first before other devices and activities which do not need as much bandwidth, such as email and general browsing.
As bandwidth demands continue to grow with more and more devices connecting to home networks, we would argue that having QoS settings to manage traffic is getting more and more important, which is why it is odd that QoS is not offered on the routers supplied by many ISPs.
Netgear and Linksys routers are usually equipped with QoS settings, but availability on other brands is a little patchy.
This is hopefully something that will change though, as there are endless different permutations of activities we can think of on home networks where Quality of Service would be important, especially when multiple people are trying to do multiple things at the same time which use bandwidth. Here are just some examples:
- Netflix streaming
- Catch Up TV or TV on Demand
- Skype or Facebook Chat
- Online Gaming
- Working from home – teleconferences, webinars and group chats
- Youtube streaming and uploading
All of these activities have the potential to use a lot of download or upload bandwidth and so if any of these are taking place either simultaneously or alongside general browsing, then QoS settings can help to manage the traffic so that devices that need their data sent first will get it without any disruption in service.
Quality of Service in Action for Gaming
This is why it is surprising that QoS settings are not more prevalent in routers supplied by ISPs. As traffic demands and the number of connected devices keeps growing on home networks, there needs to be a way to manage these traffic demands and QoS, whilst appearing complex at first, is actually not that hard to implement on a device by device basis.
You simply need the MAC/IP address of the device(s) you are wanting to prioritise, which is easy to find on any device. You then log into your router using it’s IP address and password supplied on the back and head over to QoS settings, where you input each device by MAC or IP address and set it’s priority accordingly (Highest or Maximum down to Lowest). See our full article on QoS for more details.
What Can I Do If My Router Does Not Have Quality of Service Settings?
What happens if you want to manage traffic more effectively on your home network, but your router does not have Quality of Service settings? Are there any other options besides using the dual wifi bands to spread traffic out a little more?
We can think of two main alternatives to prioritise certain devices without having QoS on your main router. One involves moving any important devices over to wired connections, the other involves getting a separate router which does have QoS and using that as your main router. Lets look at each of these in turn.
Option 1 – Get Critical Devices onto Wired Connections if Possible With Direct Ethernet or Powerline Adapter
If you can identify the devices in your home that need priority over the rest but don’t have QoS settings, the best thing you can do is get these devices off wifi and onto wired ethernet connections to your router, as wired connections are the best for strength and quality of connection as well as traffic prioritisation.
As we mentioned wired ethernet connections have several big advantages over wifi, in that they have a dedicated uncluttered communications channel to the router and can also send and receive simultaneously with no problems, reducing delays and avoiding the problems of WiFi of network congestion and signal degradation over distance.
So if at all possible it is best to connect gaming consoles or devices that are used for activities that need priority directly to your router via ethernet if at all possible, even if this might mean running long ethernet cables to get there in some cases. This will deliver a better connection over wifi and help avoid lag and buffering at peak use times.
If some cases this might not be possible though, as the devices is just too far away from the router to be running ethernet cables through walls or down stairs. In this case a Powerline Adapter is a great alternative that can do the same job without the need for long cables or DIY.
Powerline Adapters effectively deliver a wired connection as strong or almost as strong as if you were plugged directly into the router and will give you all the benefits are a direct ethernet connection by using your houses existing electrical wiring to connect your device and router.
See our page powerline adapter models and also our Quick Product Comparison Table which breaks down all the TP Link wired and wireless models by feature and functionality for you to compare side by side.
Option 2 – Get a Separate Router Which Has Quality of Service Settings
The second option is to get a separate router which does have QoS settings and use that as your main router to prioritise traffic. This is the more expensive option and it could be avoided if ISPs would put QoS on their main routers, but it is an option if you want to manually prioritise devices on your home network.
For this option Gaming Routers are the best type of routers to go for. As the name suggests they are primarily designed for online gaming but they always have QoS settings on them as gaming is the activity that can perhaps benefit the most from QoS on home networks as the delay in data transmission is what causes lag in online gaming.
However gaming routers can be used for anything and not just games consoles; they are sometimes only marketed as gaming routers as opposed to normal routers precisely because they have QoS settings on them. But these settings can be used to prioritise any device you want and not just games consoles.
Understandably many of us don’t want to be forking out for an extra router when we are already paying for our internet package in the first place and our ISP hasn’t put QoS settings on their own router. Nevertheless router of all prices are available and there are some budget ones which will do the job fine.
Any of these routers or indeed any gaming router (and many standard routers) have QoS settings where your current ISPs modem/hub may not so they are a good alternative if you really do want the ability to prioritise cetain devices on your home home network. Anything marketed as a “Gaming Router” is guaranteed to have Quality of Service settings on it.
If you purchase one of these routers you then simply need to connect it to your current modem/hub that your ISP installed, but only through the “Internet” or “WAN” port at both ends and not the “Ethernet” or “LAN” ports. For simplicity now there is only usually one WAN port on routers versus 4 LAN ports and the WAN port is often coloured differently so you can tell which is which.
A video showing how to install your own router is embedded below. Obviously makes and models vary but the general process is still the same for all brands.
This means you replace your existing router with a new one. You connect your new router to your existing hub through the WAN port (WAN port to WAN port if there is one on your ISP supplied hub), log in to your new router and usually configure a few settings, then you are good to go!
Replacing your ISP supplied modem/hub with your own router is usually a straightforward process
Once you have configured an ID and password for your new router, all devices can now connect to your new router rather than the standard hub/modem supplied by your ISP you were using before. As your new router has Quality of Service settings you can now navigate to these settings to manage traffic and set an order of priority for all devices that are connected to your new router.
Once you have correctly configured QoS settings on your new router, traffic management should improve so that people can stream, game online and browse in a house without any one person’s experience suffering too much as the router is handling requests in a logical order to prioritise what needs to be dealt with first.
For a full run down of exactly how do configure QoS settings, see our full article on the topic.