By Shahrum Gilani
Last updated: July 6, 2018
For many of us, our smartphones have become increasingly important in our lives. We use them to browse the web, watch videos, listen to music and access services on a daily basis.
As demand for internet services has increased, UK mobile network providers have adopted different ways of managing the traffic on their networks. The following guide explains these traffic management policies, and how they may affect users.
Traffic management allows mobile network providers to alleviate congestion and handle traffic more efficiently on their networks. It involves using techniques and technologies to temporarily alter the way users receive internet services.
For example, under certain circumstances, network providers may artificially limit the maximum download speed available, prioritise certain types of traffic over others, or block or slow down some types of content.
Users are consuming more bandwidth-heavy internet content, like videos and games, and as a result mobile networks are likely to experience congestion issues. Network congestion could result in a degradation of the quality of the internet services provided to users.
Traffic management is a strategy for easing this congestion in a bid to improve the overall quality and consistency of mobile internet services.
Users may occasionally experience a slowing in mobile internet speeds or a loss of quality in internet content, but this can also happen for other reasons. For example, your internet might slow down if you’re in a location with poor 4G coverage, or at a crowded event like a concert or festival where thousands of smartphones are jostling for the same signal. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to tell whether your internet has been slowed artificially by your network provider, or if it’s slowed down for another reason.
Following concerns that providers could use traffic management techniques to gain a competitive advantage, new EU rules came into force in 2016 meaning that internet providers must treat all traffic on their networks equally. They are not allowed to slow down, block or otherwise discriminate between traffic on their network, unless it’s necessary to enable them to comply with their legal obligations, protect the security of the network or manage congestion in exceptional circumstances, like emergencies.
Network providers are, however, allowed to use reasonable measures to manage traffic to keep the network running efficiently and optimise the overall quality of the service.
Under EU rules, network providers are required, as part of their contracts with users, to explain their use of traffic management and how it may impact the services they provide. They must also make this information available publicly. Each network and service provider uses slightly different measures to manage traffic. We look at two examples of traffic management policies for major network providers to see how they work in practice.
Vodafone’s traffic management policy shows that Vodafone doesn’t use traffic management in any significant way. The policy states that:
Three’s traffic management policy states that it uses traffic management in certain circumstances. It states that:
It also states in Three’s terms and conditions that:
You can find out more about traffic management from communications regulator Ofcom.