Dude, you're totally harshing my network connection.
February 3, 2011 6:24 PM   Subscribe

I feel like a dick asking this, but is there any way to tell if my neighbors are throttling our shared internet connection with downloads? And if they are, is there any way to partition the connection so my connection's not affected?

I share a wireless connection with my neighbors (two apartments in one building). Whenever they're home, the internet connection becomes extremely unreliable--pages time out, don't load properly, etc--in a way that in my experience means someone doing a bunch of downloading.

I feel dumb going upstairs and being all "ARE YOU DOWNLOADING I NEED MY FACEBOOK TO LOAD FASTER." At the same time, if they're home it means I can't load up my school's Blackboard site without refreshing the page five times, and that gets kind of annoying when I'm trying to submit homework assignments. I know nothing about networking, is there a way to see if it's them actually affecting the connection? And if it is, can I just "split" the connection so I can have my own connection that's not affected by whatever they're doing up there?

If this isn't possible, is there ever a good way to ask an almost perfect stranger to throttle their download speed?
posted by schroedinger to Computers & Internet (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Who controls the wireless router?

You can get a newer dual band router which will set up 2 separate wireless networks but if you are swamping your modem you are screwed. Talk to your neighbor or get your own Internet
posted by bitdamaged at 6:28 PM on February 3, 2011

It also matters whether you have a slow dsl line or cable modem or something else at the other end of the wifi. I have a slow dsl line - one machine downloading stuff from iTunes will kill the web for all other machines.
posted by Mid at 6:35 PM on February 3, 2011

Tell them you are having speed issues, and before you call the internet company to complain, you just wanted to see if they were having the same issues, so that you can try to troubleshoot what the problem might be. Pretend like you don't suspect it is them, and see how they respond.
posted by markblasco at 6:35 PM on February 3, 2011 [9 favorites]

What you want is a tool called a packet sniffer, which will "listen" to the data being transmitted and show you what's passing over the network. Try here for pointers to tools that will fit your need.
posted by axiom at 6:36 PM on February 3, 2011

As bitdamaged said, most older wireless-N routers will drop the whole network from wireless-N speeds to wireless-G speeds if a wireless-G client connects to it. That could account for the speed loss when they return home from work. A new "dual band" wireless-N router won't do this.

They also could be saturating the connection with downloading. It's difficult to say unless you have physical access to the router and can run tests/ log into the firmware to check it, which isn't clear from your question. I believe in custom firmwares like WRT or Tomato (which can only be installed on certain routers) you can specify bandwidth by client, although that might get a little technical.
posted by sharkfu at 6:37 PM on February 3, 2011

It's a cable modem, and the wireless router is in my apartment so I guess I control it. I don't want to be a douchenazi about the internet connection. The first step would be to see if they actually are throttling the connection or if the connectivity problems are something else, but I don't have the tech-savvy to do even that. I can log into the router but from there I'm kind of lost.
posted by schroedinger at 6:37 PM on February 3, 2011

Are you required by your lease to share the wifi connection?
posted by IndigoRain at 6:39 PM on February 3, 2011

Yeah, internet in included in both our leases. I share my apartment with my landlady (she's only here about one weekend a month), so that's why the router is here.
posted by schroedinger at 6:41 PM on February 3, 2011

Throttling the connection is the wrong term for what you are talking about. They are overloading the connection.. You want to set up a way to throttle their traffic so they can't use as much.
posted by lakerk at 6:42 PM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

What's the make and model of the router you own and what speed connection to you pay for from the cable company?
posted by sharkfu at 6:50 PM on February 3, 2011

With many routers you can turn on a feature calles QoS (quality of service) which can help prioritize packets if they're hogging bandwidth. On more advanced routers you can get into specific throttling rules. Things like P2P (limewire, bittorrent, kazaa, bearshare) sessions can absolutely wreck a shared internet connection if the router isnt setting limits.
posted by samsara at 6:59 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you control the wifi router, you'd want to look into if it supports "quality of service" rules. Here's a sample page about setting up QoS rules. Depending on the device, you can set up various usage rules - not every device will support every option. Look up the specifics for your device.

If "internet" is included in both your leases, and it's a shared residential connection, you probably also want to talk to your landlady about setting this up - I dunno what the lease spells out for internet, of course.
posted by mrgoat at 7:04 PM on February 3, 2011

[This likely has next to nothing to do with a dual-band router (or lack thereof). 802.11g isn't that slow -- at least not slow enough that dropping down to g from n will make things come to a grinding halt. Really.]

Less-wild-speculation: The upload bandwidth is simply being saturated by P2P software. Download bandwidth might be being saturated, but this is far less likely to be your culprit (assuming you have much more download bandwidth than upload). Saturating upload bandwidth will, all by itself, prevent ACK packets from getting through -- necessary in communicating with any web server -- and, so, even if your neighbors are coming nowhere close to saturating the download bandwidth, even low-bandwidth web-pages will take forever to load.

Two solutions:

(i) Get neighbor-jerks to limit their upload speeds. This isn't that hard for them to do. Any P2P software has fairly obvious configuration options just for this purpose. Moreover, limiting upload speeds to even a high-ish 90% of total upload bandwidth will leave plenty of room for ACK packets to get through. Web sites will then load as fast as you'd ever need.

(ii) If neighbor-jerks aren't so willing (or are technologically challenged), you will need to address this on a router-level. [Q: What brand/model is your router?] If you're lucky, your router will either have QOS-support built-in, or you'll be able to install a different, better firmware on it. If you're unlucky, you'll have to buy another router with this capability (though they can be bought for ~$50). Configured correctly, QOS will allow web/email/whatever traffic will to get top priority, come what may, and P2P traffic can be given lowest priority. With QOS, neighbors can then try to saturate the bandwidth all they might, but it won't do jack-shit vis-a-vis your more important traffic, which will be given much higher priority.
posted by astrochimp at 7:05 PM on February 3, 2011

nthing a router/firmware with QoS to solve your problems.
posted by Jairus at 7:10 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't worry about trying a packet sniffer. While you might be able to see their traffic, that's all you see- seeing their bandwidth isn't exactly something Wireshark was built to do.

People will recommend custom router firmware such as dd-wrt, which I personally use on my router. I can see live bandwidth meters for my network, but I can't see which client is creating that traffic. However, you can still figure out if your neighbor is slowing things down by simple deduction. If he's connecting and you see 54 Mbp/s, chances are he's overloading your network. You can also see exactly what clients are connected at any given time (any normal router will tell you that). Plain router firmware should also have some kind of QoS as mentioned by others.

Thing is, for any kind of technological solution, it will require getting your feet wet in the world of consumer routers.
posted by jmd82 at 7:10 PM on February 3, 2011

Oh, yeah: with respect to your one question, if this only ever happens when they're at home, P2P usage is the culprit. 99%+ of the time, that is.

However, if you have no control over the router situation, though, and they are unwilling/unable to limit their upload speeds (again, it's very unlikely to be the download speed), then you're SOL (and I feel for you, because I've been there).
posted by astrochimp at 7:12 PM on February 3, 2011

It's a Belkin router--no make or model seem to be indicated.

There is QoS built in, hooray! It only has settings for "Voice," "Video," "Games," and "General," though, if I prioritize "General" will that include upload P2P traffic too?
posted by schroedinger at 7:31 PM on February 3, 2011

When we shared a wireless
connection, we had speed issues. We just asked our neighbours if they were downloading; no, they weren't, but one of them was playing a lot of WoW. We asked if she could play after 11pm, that was fine with her -- and everything was hunky dory. A couple of years earlier, it had been me who had unwittingly messed up my roommates online Diablo playing while downloading -- she asked, I said "oh, so sorry", and throttled before midnight.

just ask nicely and matter-of-factly -- if they are downloading, they can move it to an off-time.
posted by jb at 7:36 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

"It only has settings for "Voice," "Video," "Games," and "General," though, if I prioritize "General" will that include upload P2P traffic too?"

Just try tinkering with those settings. However, I share your reservation: those options sound downright weird. It would be truly inane for them to have lumped P2P traffic in with web traffic, but those four options don't seem to imply otherwise. Does there seem to be any option to create new categories?
posted by astrochimp at 8:01 PM on February 3, 2011

All the suggestions above are good, but just know that there are things other than lots of torrenting that can decimate your download/upload rate. There are some physical properties of the wiring and filters that the ISP maintains that can limit you, and I recently got a big speed boost from having my company come out and check that and replace a filter. Before they did that I had about 30% the speed I should have had. If there is a big obvious problem sometimes it's their fault, and they may even be able to determine if there is a problem over the phone.
posted by slow graffiti at 10:02 PM on February 3, 2011

I'm not having issues with speed, but connectivity. Randomly my browser will decide to not load any pages (like getting server errors when trying to access Google). I wait or hit "Refresh" until it decides to kick back in again, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why I get kicked off or how long it takes to get back on. This generally only happens when my neighbors are here.
posted by schroedinger at 10:47 PM on February 3, 2011

Connectivity issues is just another way of saying your speed dropped to pretty much zero, or drops close enough often enough for the usual handshaking that goes on to get screwed up.

When you connect to your router it should tell you what model it is, either on the front screen or in one of the menu settings. If you can give us a model number we can tell you how to throttle certain kinds of traffic.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:20 PM on February 3, 2011

Sounds like your network may be suffering from the dreaded Buffer Bloat.

Short version: modern network routers have internal buffers that effectively prevent the standard congestion avoidance algorithms in tcp/ip stacks from working, because they hold on to packets when they should drop them on the floor. The moment anyone saturates the link, performance for everyone else plummets because none of the tcp stacks are throttling their transmit / receive rates.

It may help to deliberately limit the upload bandwidth at the router so that it's slightly less than the actual bandwidth allocated to the uplink. That way, the router will start dropping packets before it saturates the link. Same for the download side if you can manage it. Worth a try anyway.

As others have said, simply asking your neighbours to limit their PTP use to the early hours may help: never overlook the social solution to a technical problem! Alternatively, some routers will let you split the network into VLANs and allocate a certain amount of bandwidth to each VLAN. This is the "hammer to crack a nut" solution if nothing else works.
posted by pharm at 12:57 AM on February 4, 2011

n-thing custom firmware. I installed a stock tomato firmware, and enabled its qos with no tweaking, running full blown torrents doesnt even cause a blip for my browsing (and wife's)
posted by edman at 9:26 AM on February 4, 2011

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