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Gripe Of The Week

Posted by | Posted in Geek Stuff | Posted on 06-11-2008

This week’s ball-grabbing annoyance has to be ISP’s, or Internet Service Providers. As I’m sure you’re already aware, what with you clearly being on the internet and all, an ISP is a company that provides your home or business with access to the internet. Recently, we’ve been having “trouble” with ours.

I say “trouble”, but I don’t really mean it. In fact, aside from the fact that we periodically seem to be the target of a Denial Of Service attack, I can’t really see anything wrong with our current ISP. But other people in my household, who seem to have an unhealthy addiction to World Of Warcraft, seem to find that during peak hours (6pm to 11pm, according to Tiscali) they often find a high latency while playing. To the extent that they can no longer play the game effectively.

They blame the ISP for having a rubbish connection. They say that Tiscali have a poor service, and that it’s all their fault. Whenever we all come off of the network so that one of us can run a speed test, the test tells us that we have the best possible speed for our measly 1Mb internet connecton that we’re provided with. Yet during peak hours while these addicts are playing their game, they will undoubtedly suffer from severe lag sooner or later. As I say, they blame Tiscali and their poor service.

I, on the other hand, think that they are missing the obvious. Just look at the facts:

  • The two gamers experience lag when they both play WoW at the same time during peak hours
  • They dont have the same trouble during the day, when they’re not playing during peak hours
  • When nobody is connected to the network, speeds are top notch
  • As soon as they start playing their game, they experience bad lag again, and the internet as a whole slows down (including web browsing for us non-gamers)

Sounds to me like it’s the game itself. Either the game needs more than a 1Mb line to comfortably cope with two or more players, or Tiscali have decided that it uses too much bandwidth during peak hours, and restricts traffic.

As far as I know, Tiscali doesn’t utilize packet-shaping. So that means when they decide to restrict our bandwidth, they restrict ALL traffic, nomatter where it comes from. I also know that bandwidth doesn’t really have much to do with latency, or ‘lag’ as some people call it. The lag is the time it takes for the data to get from where it’s come from to where it’s going to. The more servers/routers/switches etc that the data packet has to go through, the longer it will take to get there.

Now I’m no expert, but I cant really see how switching ISP’s is going to change the number of servers it takes to route the data from the WoW servers to our house. (The technical term for this is ‘hops’). The physical PCs in our house, and the WoW servers will remain in the same place relative to each other nomatter what ISP we use. So the number of hops the data must complete will be roughly the same, hence the lag will remain the same.

Still, I’m not going to say anything. But I will take some minor delight in seeing that, after the transfer, there’s absolutely no change in lag at all. Generally speaking, the more bandwidth you have, the better. That’s because if an ISP can offer lots of bandwidth they no dount have a fast network anyway, so the lag will generally be a lot less. But ‘bandwidth’ simply refers to the amount of data that can be sent at any one time, and NOT how fast it is sent (which is what the latency, or lag, measures). So it’s possible to have a good level of lag (i.e. none) on a 56K modem, but experience awful lag on a 20Mb connection.

I guess we’ll see where this goes. In some ways I hope that it improves the situation for WoW, but I don’t suppose it will. If it doesn’t, then we will have transferred to another ISP for nothing. Except by then, we’ll be using an ISP with a monthly download cap, whereas at the moment we have no such caps. All Tiscali ask is that we don’t use too much bandwidth during peak hours. And as we don’t, I dont see why they would limit our bandwidth. Which means only one thing – the latency has nothing to do with our bandwidth.

Perhaps Obama can sort us out. People seem to be expecting miracles from him already, and he’s only been president for about a day.

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