As the go-to source for all news relating to bufferbloat, I’m glad to announce that the first of several possible solutions to the problem will shortly be available, just in time to save the Internet from self-destruction.

What, you didn’t know the Internet was self-destructing? Well it is.

Bufferbloat, my #1 prediction from 2011, is an artifact of cheap memory and bad planning in the Internet Age. In order to keep our porn streaming without interruption we add large memory buffers in applications, network cards or chipsets, routers, more routers, and even more routers until the basic flow control techniques of the TCP protocol are completely overwhelmed. Data glugs through the system like a gas can with no vent.  Our solution to date has been to make our pipes (and therefore our glugs) bigger, but in the long run that won’t help. Latency increases and performance declines.

Many Internet users are unaware of bufferbloat because it has been masked by faster computers and bigger pipes and because it sneaked up on us slowly over time. But here’s a test.  Think back to your first broadband cable or DSL Internet connection, right after you finally got rid of dial-up. How much faster is your Internet connection today than it was back then?  Don’t think in terms of numbers but of subjective performance.  It’s not much faster at all, is it? That’s bufferbloat.

My first broadband connection was a Northpoint DSL line back in 1996 running at 384 kilobits-per-second and my primary computer at the time was running at something like 40 MHz.  My Internet connection today is 24 megabits-per-second (about 70 times as fast) and my main PC has quad cores running at three GHz (500 times as fast!). My Internet connection should certainly feel at least 70 times faster. Yet for most purposes my connection doesn’t seem any quicker than it did back in 1996. Part of this is that we are pushing more bits through the pipe, but the rest is bufferbloat.

The solution to bufferbloat is Active Queue Management (AQM), which is controlling buffers to maximize data throughput. The most effective thing most of us can do right now to reduce bufferbloat is to manually set all our buffers at the smallest possible size, but that’s just a coping strategy, not AQM.  AQM will dynamically adjust buffers to improve network efficiency with the result that our Internet connections will all speed up as if by magic.

But as it was with Tinkerbell, such network health can happen only if we all believe. To eliminate bufferbloat it isn’t enough for you and me to change our ways, we all have to do it.

And we finally are getting the tools to do so. This morning the first public bufferbloat solution appeared in a paper on an ACM website titled Controlling Queue Delay by Kathleen Nichols and Van Jacobson. If you read the paper please also look at today’s blog post from bufferbloat pioneer Jim Gettys explaining what it’s all about.

But the best is yet to come because within days or weeks we’re likely to see AQM-equipped beta code for Open Source routers from many manufacturers. Depending on how well this code works and how quickly manufacturers like Cisco, Netgear and others adapt it for their non-Open Source network hardware, this could be the beginning of the end for bufferbloat.

It’s nice to print good news for a change.

Of course I sometimes get carried away, so here’s a cautionary note from Jim Gettys: “We have only ethernet running. Wireless will be *much* harder, and take months to years to get working properly.  This has to do both with the much more complex queuing needed for AP’s, and the hair that packet aggregation causes (802.11n). Also CeroWrt only runs on a small amount of hardware at the moment; and CoDel only on its ethernet so far. Also lots of other things besides home routers need fixing: e.g.
your cable/dsl modems, FIOS gear, etc…”

Like he said.

My advice to Cisco, Netgear, D-Link and others is that this could be an important moment in their businesses if they choose to approach it correctly. It’s a chance to get all of us to buy new routers, perhaps new everything. Think of the music industry bonanza when we all shifted our record libraries from vinyl to CDs. It could be the same for networking equipment. But for that to happen the vendors have to finally acknowledge bufferbloat and use their marketing dollars to teach us all why we should upgrade ASAP. Everybody would win.

Take our money, please.