The hidden cause of slow Internet and how to fix it

The culprit is a TCP-related phenomenon known as bufferbloat.

In 2010, Jim Gettys, a veteran computer programmer who currently works at Google, was at home uploading a large file to his work server. His kids came into his study and said, “Daddy, the Internet is slow today.” Wondering how his upload activity could be affecting downloads by his kids, he began to investigate.

By experimenting with pings and various levels of load on his Internet connection, he discovered that latencies were often four to 10 times larger than what should have been expected. He termed the phenomenon, “bufferbloat.” His conclusion was that critical data packets were trapped in buffers that were excessively large.

From the time Gettys made his observation and began to publicize it, researchers from companies such as Cisco and Google, standards groups like the IETF and major research universities have been investigating, testing, and writing about bufferbloat. We also conducted our own simple tests. Bufferbloat is real. What is not fully understood is the extent of its impact on the normal flow of Internet traffic.

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