What is Data Shaping
Internet Access Data Shaping
Internet access data shaping, also known as “packet shaping” and “traffic shaping” is the method used by some Internet Service Providers providers to limit certain types of internet data traffic. The internet provider may impose data shaping for several reasons, the most common being insufficient network capacity; nearly always a result of the “profit motive” – ISPs oversell capacity and try to load as many paying customers on to a network as possible, to grab extra profit from the limited resources.
Internet service providers will seldom admit their sole reason for data shaping is profit, they will usually tell clients they regulate network data transfer rates to assure a certain level of performance or quality of service (QoS) for all clients. Whether or not their data shaping adversely affects these same clients is of little consequence except in a highly competitive market.
Common Types of Data “Shaped”
The way data is shaped varies from one service provider to another. The most common type of shaping is for per to peer file sharing such as torrent downloads. Torrent downloads are often very large files taking a long time to download. Some ISPs take this to an extreme, limiting all downloads including things like Windows Updates.
Some ISPs will allow customers a limited amount of un-shaped download, e.g. 1GB per month, then throttle speed after that limit is reached. This is a common practice used with so-called “un-capped” services (There’s no such thing as un-capped internet access!)
Bandwidth Throttling and rate limiting are two other types of data shaping. These are essentially the same, the only difference being; it’s called bandwidth throttling when it involves data coming into the network – e.g. pages served by websites and downloads, and called rate limiting when it involves outgoing packets of data, e.g. when uploading files, or simply sending requests from a browser to a website.
Ping Management is another data shaping method where ping rates are limited. This generally impacts applications using high ping rates e.g. online gaming.
Data Shaping in South Africa
All consumer internet data in South Africa is shaped! Starting at the highest tier, the National infrastructure network. Telkom restricts all international data, both incoming and outgoing. They also limit data rates (both ways) across their hard-wired networks. Then we move to the so called last mile, the customers’ internet service providers. No matter what their advertising may say, or their sales staff may tell you, every service provider limits data rates in one way or another. 20+ Gbps capable 3G services are generally restricted to under 4 Mbps or less for downloads. ADSL, already pathetically slow, is usually further restricted by packet type data shaping.
Most South African internet service providers impose extreme limits on ping rates… Some providers offer “special” gaming packages, some of which are fairly good, if not at internationally acceptable levels. Most so-called gaming packages are still rate limited however.
What can be done to overcome Data Shaping
The options available to consumers depend entirely on the level of competition in their region. For consumers in real-world regions, they can move to a more flexible (less greedy) provider. For subscribers in other-world regions, like SA, “Grin and Bear It”, you have no other realistic option. With no competition at infrastructure level (forget Neotel – their service is a poor joke, prices totally unrealistic and customer service non-existent).