Ofcom report into Traffic Management Detection Tools

Ofcom report into Traffic Management Detection Tools

Ofcom this week released a report on Traffic Management Detection Methods and Tools undertaken for it by Predictable Network Solutions. This technical study is a timely addition to the debate around the Open Internet and the role of traffic management.

It is widely recognised that traffic management can, and does, bring benefits to consumers. The focus of the debate around the Open Internet tends, although not always, to focus on the concerns that traffic management practices could be used in an anti-competitive way – for instance an Internet Service Provider prioritising their own in-house services over that of a rivals. This then throws up questions of users’ understanding of their communication providers’ traffic management policies. The BSG has helped industry increase transparency levels through the Traffic Management Code of Practice.

The aim of the report was to establish if there is a method or product that allows for large scale practical traffic management detection as this would be a useful addition to the regulatory toolkit. The report outlined the 3 minimum characteristics of such a detection method:

  1. Identify the location of application of Traffic Management along the digital delivery chain;
  2. Be reliable, minimising false positives and false negatives;
  3. Be scalable to deliver comprehensive coverage of potential TM locations, without excessive deployment cost or adverse effect on network performance

The desk research conducted demonstrated that most of the existing traffic management detection tools have been designed for use in the US, where both the market and network structures are different. None of the tools (see below), even when combined, were found to meet the three characteristics set out above. Whilst the tools examined are largely successful in fulfilling their own targets, the report finds they are unsuitable to be used as a large-scale traffic management detection method in the UK – not least because those in active deployment generate significant volumes of traffic which would place further strain on networks.

An emerging network analysis technique, known as network tomography, may provide a practical and effective solution in the UK although more work needs to be done:

Ofcom TM Research Paper - TM tools comparison

The research also makes several other observations, one of which are particularly interesting and relevant to discussions on the Open Internet: “Traffic management controls how the quality impairment is allocated; and since quality impairment is always present and always distributed somehow or other, traffic management is always present.” This implies that a ‘neutral’ network is not one that is free from traffic management.

The report is certainly not, and doesn’t seek to be, the final say in this debate but it does bring interesting and objective information on network performance to the debate.

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