As a society, we depend on the internet more today than ever before. Media streaming and the Internet of Things have created an unprecedented demand for bandwidth, while increasing amounts of interpersonal communications rely on VoIP and social media. Yet the infrastructure required to channel this data has barely expanded in the last decade, and in some population centers, it’s creaking at the seams.
Broadband Connections, Are They Maxed Out?
There are two sticking points here: hardwired infrastructure, and wireless signals. The former is seeing domestic and corporate connections pushed to their limits, as employees email high-quality files to people at the next desk and family members sit in separate rooms streaming full HD media to personal devices. The explosion in on-demand content has further strained broadband connections that were already struggling to cope with IoT traffic, and the endless push updates of tablets and smartphones has created an additional burden.
Wireless Communication Push Data Caps Beyond Their Limit
Of arguably greater concern is the proliferation of devices attempting to communicate wirelessly through our congested and inadequate radio frequency spectrum. Wearable and wireless devices are becoming ubiquitous, yet there is a finite amount of space for their data to be uploaded. Heavy over-subscription to the Industrial, Scientific and Medical radio band (2.4GHz) could render non-priority systems largely unusable in the not too distant future, with a plethora of devices arbitrarily pumping out communications across the same sliver of available frequencies. From erratic baby monitors to media streaming packet loss, the symptoms are becoming increasingly evident; error rates are rising, while media streaming often deteriorates into a pixelated low-resolution format mid-broadcast. Signal boosting devices actually exacerbate the issue by ‘stealing’ bandwidth from everyone else.
5 Steps To Combat Bandwidth Congestion
Clearly such a widespread challenge requires solutions at a national level. The forthcoming 5G network will hopefully give us one-millisecond latency periods alongside ultra-fast downloads, while FTTP is helping to provide wireless routers with sufficient bandwidth to power a house full of internet-enabled devices. In the meantime there are a number of steps we can all take as consumers (both corporate and personal) to fight back against bandwidth congestion:
- Wherever possible, use Ethernet cables. Many people use wireless connections for laptops when their router is only a few feet away, just to save plugging in a cable. Ethernet connections are particularly valuable when working via the cloud.
- Disconnect devices when not in use, and rationalize their usage. Does your mobile phone really need to be connected to Wi-Fi while you’re asleep? Does a home computer have to automatically update every time it logs on? Small steps can save significant bandwidth, and remember Bluetooth also drains 2.4GHz resources.
- Download a spectrum scanner such as Wi-Fi Analyzer (Android) or airodump-ng (Linux) to see how much competition there is for available bandwidth. Remember to check this periodically, as new devices will be appearing constantly.
- Try to avoid wireless devices that rely solely on the 2.4GHz band, which is easily the most congested wireless frequency. Remember that 802.11n devices can use the less cluttered 5GHz band.
- Delete bloatware. Does your company website require all those WordPress plugins? Does your smartphone benefit from all the ‘health check’ and ‘software management’ apps pre-installed on it? Removing unnecessary software can speed up connections, as well as freeing up more bandwidth for media streaming and new IoT devices…