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Congested networks: what it is and how it affects us

Image Credits: Getty Images

Congested networks: what it is and how it affects us

What does it mean if the network is congested?

Basically, we can say that a congested network is one that is receiving too many requests and does not have the capacity to resolve them all. This is what happens when there are a large number of devices connected to a cell tower, router, or access point.

Consider a multi-lane highway. Let's take the case in which we are riding a car and on the four-lane highway there are hardly any vehicles in one of them. We will be able to drive without problems, without stops or traffic jams. Instead, let's say that the same four-lane highway has three completely occupied lanes by trucks and buses. This forces cars to go through a fourth lane and have problems going at an optimal speed and there are continuous traffic jams.

This last case, that of traffic jams, is what happens with a congested network. Anything we do on the Internet, such as sending an email, opening the browser, playing streaming videos ... All of this will require transactions. Each transaction is divided into packages.

So that all this can be routed correctly, the TCP / IP system is used, which is the protocol that allows us to navigate the network as we do. It is what will establish the connections between computers and the packages that go from one site to another.

What if there are too many packages? We could run into that network congestion we mentioned. This would cause errors, slowness, and even the inability to connect to the network.

How congested networks affect

What we will notice most with congested networks is that there is greater slowness. But this can affect in different ways, as we will see. The problem may affect all users of an operator, those who connect to the mobile network in a certain place or in our own home.

Service provider saturation

A first cause that we can find when talking about congested networks is that our service provider is saturated. Sometimes we have heard that at certain times of the day the Internet can slow down. It is something that although nowadays it is not so common, can happen.

Why is this happening? Let's think back to that four-lane highway we were talking about. There may be many users connected at home on one day and at a certain time. Our operator has limited bandwidth to meet the demand of all customers. But if there is a very high number at a certain time, that can affect the speed.

This is something that we have been able to verify during the months of home confinement during the pandemic. There were millions of people at home connected to the network and making use of cloud services, platforms such as Netflix, social networks ...

Many users connected to a mobile antenna

We can also run into network congestion when using mobile data. Perhaps this is the most common. It occurs mainly in places and times where there are many people, much more than there usually are and that exceeds the capacity of the antennas.

Think of a concert with thousands of people or a football game with a full stadium. The antennas have a limited capacity and are designed to connect to X devices at the same time. If suddenly there is an extraordinary event in that place and thousands of more people congregate than usual, this could lead to network congestion and affect the speed or even prevent us from connecting.

Home network congestion

Another case would be at the domestic level. Our router, like the previous cases, has a limited capacity. You can resolve requests up to a point before problems arise. If we connect many devices and also make great use of the network, this would generate failures.

We can suffer the loss of speed, cut-offs, and even not being able to connect devices to the router. Bandwidth is limited. Again you have to think of a road where there is room for a number of vehicles to go smoothly, but suddenly there are many more and it gets congested.

Can we avoid this problem?

At this point, this may be the question that many users ask. Could we avoid network congestion? The first thing to keep in mind is that not everything will depend on the user, as we have seen. Problems at a domestic level are not the same as in the operator we use.

If it is domestic congestion in our home, with the devices that we connect to the router, we can take into account certain tips that will help us improve quality. For example, we can correctly choose the Wi-Fi band that we are going to use. We have the option of using the 5 GHz and also the 2.4 GHz. The first is the one that will offer the highest speed but is more sensitive to distance and obstacles. On the other hand, the second is the one that has more stability if we connect from afar. But the important thing here is to use another band if we see that the other one is congested.

Likewise, an essential step is to try to connect by cable the main devices in which we are going to need maximum stability and speed. For example, a computer with which we are going to work. This will help to have a better connection.

Can we do something if we find ourselves facing mobile network congestion? Possibly yes. It could happen that we are using the 4G network, like thousands of users in that place where we are, and simply connecting to the 3G network would be less saturated and we could have fewer problems.

On the other hand, we will not have many options if the failure is at the broadband operator level. If we find a network saturation when we use ADSL or fiber optics, that already depends directly on the operator. We could not do more than wait or try to optimize the connection that reaches us as much as possible.

In short, congested networks with a problem can appear on certain occasions. It will not always depend on the user and we will not always be able to solve it. However, we can take into account some tips as we have seen.