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Bandwidth Management for Home Networks

A tech enthusiast who practically lives on the internet, I enjoy sci-fi and fantasy books, video games, and fanfiction in my free time.

Sharing Your Internet Connection

If you are sharing your internet connection or plan to, you will probably run into some problems. There's always this annoying roommate who uses up all bandwidth to download stuff via torrents or a neighbor who browses streaming video sites like Youtube, causing you to lag out in your favorite game or making you unable to video-chat in Skype.

The best solution to these kinds of problems is to use a router that is capable of QoS (Quality of Service). Basically, this kind of router controls your traffic (it's called "traffic shaping"), prioritizing certain types of it, and making sure everyone gets a fair share of bandwidth. Of course, if you are the administrator, you can always make your share a bigger one! Find out how you can set up a home network without blowing your budget.

Picking the Best Router For Your Network

The first step is picking a router with some good QoS capabilities. I highly recommend WRT54GL from Linksys. You can install third party Linux-based firmware on it, which provides features and flexibility that only expensive, commercial devices normally offer. Some ASUS products are good as well. Regardless of which router you get, for the best QoS capabilities you should use custom firmware (read on below).

Linksys WRT54GL

Choosing Best Firmware for a WRT54GL Router

While QoS on default Linksys firmware works pretty well, it lacks important features and flexibility. What's more, according to my personal experience using P2P programs (such as BitTorrent clients) will make your web pages time out because default firmware sets a very low connection limit. Installing any third party firmware from this list fixes the problem.

  • Tomato
    Highly recommended firmware which takes QoS configuration to the next level. When it comes to setting up traffic priorities, Tomato can do almost anything. Great and easy-to-use web interface. Has a built-in bandwidth monitor.
  • DD-WRT
    Popular firmware that is based on OpenWRT kernel rather than Linksys software. Has many features, especially useful for wireless users. From my experience, it's QoS doesn't work that well though. DD-WRT also runs on many other routers besides WRT54G
  • OpenWRT
    A firmware meant for advanced users, it is said to have one of the best QoS scripts around. It used to have only a command shell, but now some people created X-WRT, a web interface project for OpenWRT.
Basic QoS settings in Tomato. Here you set speed limits for each class of traffic.

Basic QoS settings in Tomato. Here you set speed limits for each class of traffic.

Configuring the QoS Ruleset of Your Router

Once you have everything you need for your home network, there's only the configuration left to do. Creating and perfecting your QoS ruleset can take you a few minutes to several days, depending on your experience, needs, and the firmware you chose. However a good setup will save you lots of time and trouble in the future.

For starters you'll want to give higher priority to programs that suffer from insufficient bandwidth: be it games, voice communication or simple web browsing. Give the lowest priority to file downloads and P2P programs. Most custom firmware (such as Tomato) has L7 filters which allow you to simply choose applications to prioritize from a drop-down list. Alternatively, you can prioritize traffic coming from a specific port or IP address. For example, to prioritize web browsing you will want to give higher priority to port 80 (http).

The exact process of setting up the QoS rules depends on the router and firmware you're using. You should be able to find this information on your router's manual (if you're using the default firmware) or on the homepage of the firmware maker (if you're using a custom one). My favorite one - Tomato - comes with some pre-configured rules for web browsing (high priority) and a catch-all rule for everything else (low priority). You just have to add custom rules for Skype, games, etc.

One important tip to remember is to always set the upload speed in your QoS settings to 80% - 90% of the maximum your line is capable of. This is so your router can prioritize outgoing traffic properly. Never set it to 100% of your actual upload speed.

Tomato QoS Example

An example QoS ruleset for Tomato.

An example QoS ruleset for Tomato.

This is a very basic example of Tomato QoS configuration. My actual ruleset is a lot larger, but I'm using this one for the sake of simplicity. The following rules are the most important here:

  • DNS lookups (port 53) need the highest priority. Tomato adds this one by default, so leave it there.
  • Regular web browsing (port 80 for HTTP, 443 for HTTPS) should get medium priority: below crucial VoIP and gaming, but above file downloads and torrenting.
  • The "catch-all" rule gives all other types of traffic a low priority. This is not necessary if you use the "Default class" setting and set it to Low. However, you can use similar catch-all rules to give other users on your network a lower priority than your own traffic.

The other rules are just examples that you might not need at all. In the screenshot above, I've added Skype (a VoIP app) and Counter Strike: Source (a multiplayer FPS game) and given them a High priority. I am the only one playing this game on my network, so I also added my MAC address to the latter rule.

I've also made uTorrent use a static 41234 port so my router would be able to classify this traffic as low priority. The uTorrent rule is at the top because I noticed that putting it at the bottom caused some torrent traffic to be erroneously classified as belonging to web browsing or CS:S. Tomato goes from top to bottom until it finds a rule that matches.

Dealing with Inbound Traffic

As you probably realize, your router will only prioritize outbound (upload) packets. Incoming traffic is tougher issue - it depends on what remote servers are sending you, so you can't control it directly. The best you can do is setup a hard download cap. For example, if your maximum download speed is 10 mbps, you could cap certain traffic types (P2P, streaming video) at 8 mbps or so. Your router will simply drop all the extra packets, but from my experience it's still a lot better than allowing big file downloads to hog all the bandwidth.

That's it - enjoy! If you still get lag, tweak your settings by further reducing priority of bandwidth-hungry applications until you don't have to worry about slow internet . It's all about how you divide and prioritize the web traffic! Your regular web browsing, for example, doesn't need much bandwidth but requires a high priority; and it's the vice versa for big file downloads.

You can check the homepages of the according firmware for more information, or visit the Linksys forums for helpful tips and discussions.

A More Modern Bandwidth Management Solution

Many things have changed since this article was written back in 2007. Home networks are now faster, and most people are using the new Wireless N standard which offers higher maximum speed. Considering the Linksys WRT54GL only supports Wireless G and has a weaker CPU (resulting in lower throughput, especially if QoS is used) it is no longer the #1 choice for bandwidth management. Of course, if your connection isn't faster than 20 mbps and you're perfectly happy with the older 802.11g protocol, you have no reason to update.

If you are building a new home network, however, it's better to make it more future proof. The Asus RT-N16 router (see to your right) has a more powerful processor and supports Wireless N and USB. And the best part is, you can still flash it with custom Linux firmware. I recommend Tomato USB, a new and improved version of the original Tomato.

Comments from happy people whom I saved from bandwidth clogging evil roommates go below.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Shelly Sellers from Midwest U.S.A. on March 05, 2013:

We were having big issues with our old router. We upgraded and everything in our house runs so much faster.

flycatcherrr on July 13, 2012:

My brain tends to shut down and go "la la la" whenever I even hear the word "network" - so thanks for such clear instructions!

anonymous on May 07, 2012:

Hi, I have Linksys WAG120N router. does it have the ability?

anonymous on March 16, 2012:

@jimmyworldstar: Who cares? No point in commenting on a subject like this if it doesn't help the cause!

preenit on March 13, 2012:

Thank for knowledge.

anonymous on March 13, 2012:

Thanks for sharing! Great lens!

anonymous on March 02, 2012:

@Commandrix: What do you mean "get nailed for it?" Where do you live? Saudi Arabia?

jimmyworldstar on February 16, 2012:

I've always just left settings at default, most of my family just surfs the internet.

anonymous on January 26, 2012:

the contension on the line is another factor, i switched from sky to plusnet a while back and instantly got 3meg difference within the first day of switching, after a few days of testing i finally reached 16Meg on adsl2+ further increased to 17 using an extra filter.

Sky contension in my area was 20/50, plus nets 3/50 :)

Heidi from Benson, IL on January 23, 2012:

I'd be real careful about sharing my wireless Internet because if somebody is uploading and downloading porn, you're the one who can get nailed for it. I've heard horror stories and even some of the encrypted security settings on a wireless router are easy to hack. But the QoS thing is a good idea in case you decide it's worth the risk.

Andrew Po (author) on January 16, 2012:

@anonymous: Well, this router has only 4 wired ports. You could use a switch before, but then again, WRT54GL is somewhat outdated now and might not be powerful enough for 10 PCs.

anonymous on January 02, 2012:

how many computer i can control bandwith i have 10 pc its can manage more then 10 pc

yourstrategic on November 30, 2011:

Cisco phone system has many advantages, besides facilitating international calls; they also work as caller ID to track the calls. It also helps to organize video conferencing for professional as well as personal easy communications. Nowadays there are advance technologies are utilizing for providing hassle free strategic communications around the world with new improved Cisco phone system services.

ibartolic on November 21, 2011:

Nice info. I have also few lenses from similar topic.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on November 15, 2011:

Very useful information. I had two people yesterday for almost a day fixing my connection. I doubt how much of these they really know. Now, you have made me understand the configuration going on.

anonymous on October 08, 2011:

I'm searching for an ADSL router which has the bandwidth management feature, as I don't want to place two things on my table (i.e. ADSL modem and Wireless router)

I've been unsuccessful so far in finding such an ADSL router

anonymous on September 28, 2011:

I have a TP-Link TD-W8901G Adsl modem router, is the Tomato firmware compatible? is there any suggestions for that model?

PocketfulofParis on September 11, 2011:

great lens!

Andrew Po (author) on August 29, 2011:

@anonymous: Maybe you could just install DU Meter on their computers, you can configure this program to send you email reports of how much bandwidth is being used.

anonymous on August 08, 2011:

Im looking for a router that i can control the download and upload with by the mb, and also logg which mac address is doing all the downloading. currently my usage is always maxed out for the month by the 3rd week of the month and my kids keep denying who is doing what. What can i do?

pawpaw911 on July 20, 2011:

Good information.

anonymous on June 10, 2011:

@rugarer: I don't think so. You can't unless you implement Class or groups in QoS monitoring for each computer.

dani3l lm on June 04, 2011:

nice lens, i have been using dd wrt for years and love it

anonymous on May 31, 2011:

Nice lens.Thanks for sharing. strategic planning software

rugarer on May 19, 2011:

Hi. i have a Zyxel wireless access point. I have about 5 computers sharing one internet connection. Is there a way I can monitor the bandwidth usage of all 5 computers without buying a server or installing a 3rd apart software apart from what the AP offers?

anonymous on March 20, 2011:

@notelpats: A Hub is in the Layer 1 of the OSI Model (well basic Hub is) it can be Layer 1 & 2.

A Router is in the Layer 3.

Which means that if you want Internet Sharing among other computers. Also, if you would like a device to give you automatic IP Address (DHCP Server) You need a Router.

If you would just like to hook up computers to talk to one another. Then a HUB or Switch is all that is needed. For instance, LAN games or file sharing.

This is the best way it was told to me... Think of Hubs, Switch, and Routers as a Big room. Hubs and Switches will stay inside the room and never leave, if you want files to leave the room, like go in and out the front door, then the router is necessary. Router is another name for Gateway; so Gateway to the outside

The difference between a HUB and Switch is that a HUB is old school.. When files are sent to this hub, it will send the file to ever computer on the network, the the computer will respond whether its the correct computer or not. The switch is more advance, the switch remembers which computer it goes to and only sends it to that particular computer. Therefore; speeding up the network.

Andrew Po (author) on March 16, 2011:

@anonymous: That's a good point. Back when I wrote this article, WRT54GL was a really good choice. But these days you might want to get something more powerful. Although if your internet speed is under 10 mbps, it should handle it with no problems (depends also on how many people are connected).

CPU load from QoS depends on the number of rules, too. Also using IPP2P or Layer 7 instead of ports is more CPU intensive. Finally, you can also try overclocking the CPU to 216 MHz and more. But in the end it has its limits.

SaveMySystem on January 18, 2011:

Before picking router for connection make sure router has enough ports for PC's a as well as the Internet connection. Look for which topology you can suitably apply with particular router.

notelpats on January 10, 2011:

whats the main difference between a router and a hub?

anonymous on January 10, 2011:

Hi. The QOS features do work as advertised in the modified WRT54G, but with one catch. If your internet modem bandwidth exceeds 3 or 4 Mbits/s, the QOS software becomes the bottleneck. I upgraded to 10+M/s and found I could not get past 3 or 4. I turned off QOS and now have full speed access. However, I am left with the bandwidth sharing problem albeit less so with the faster speed for all users.

Distrx on January 04, 2011:

I always like to give myself just that little bit extra share of bandwidth with QoS. :P

There is nothing more rage inducing than trying to play an online FPS when someone is streaming content from the web!

SaveMySystem on September 27, 2010:

Before picking router for connection make sure router has enough ports for PC's a as well as the Internet connection. Look for which topology you can suitably apply with particular router.

Draconius LM on September 09, 2010:

very helpful info thanks blessed by a squid angel

anonymous on September 09, 2010:

@anonymous: For traffic monitoring try use ProteMac Meter.It's prog help me

anonymous on September 05, 2010:

@anonymous: You're right about managing port/IP, but DD-WRT can actually manage the "physical" port as well. I mean it can give higher priority to computer connected to plug 1 than to plug 2. But TBH when I tried DD-WRT its QoS isn't very good. Even if I set highest priority it still lags when I use other programs. Tomato is better.

anonymous on September 02, 2010:

@anonymous: Hi Jake, have you looked at or else just get a program like the ones used for internet cafee.

anonymous on August 12, 2010:

@Petee: Hey just found this because of the topic! Good fed and info. Problem for me is that Ive just brought a Dlink DIR615 wireless router thinking that I could find a software that can manage traffic usage because we have 3 comps and one flatmate just uses our 25GB allowance in 8 days and Im getting annoyed because being in the media business we need to research. I find the N technology works better for my type of work and this wireless router was not cheap, its connected to a dynalink modem and so far Ive been told that I will need to buy a new router/modem as suggested above to manage usage. My question is to save me buying another one which leaves me out of pocket is, Is there a software or anything that I can keep these modem/routers without buying a new one. All I need is something to tell me how much GB each computer is using so they can pay for it as I own the internet account. Thanks in advance Jake

anonymous on August 04, 2010:

The best Router to buy for this is WRT54GS versions 1.0 thru 2.1 (Serial number prefixes CGN1 thru CGN4). These have the most FLASH memory (8MB) and therefore can hold the most complex variants of dd-wrt. If range is an issue (for the neighbours) then Buffalo WHR-HP-G54 is the solution. Be sure to set the BIOS board flags to enable enahance Rx Sens. and Tx Pow. Buy both on eBay and save bigtime. Google (wrt54GS wikipedia). Google "board flags" + WHR-HP-G54. Google ("Which router should I buy" dd-wrt).

anonymous on July 22, 2010:

can this work with win os

anonymous on December 21, 2009:

@anonymous: get a 10/100 hub/switch and hook it up. the router will give each computer its ip and will be able to control its internet trafic

anonymous on December 05, 2009:

Nice post, will consired buying this router cuz I really need traffic shaping. D-link doesn't seem to offer anything like that. Thanks.

anonymous on July 11, 2009:

it's said that you can prioritize traffic coming from a specific port, or IP adress. that's not physical port, if you want connect a switch and connect as many computers as you like

anonymous on June 24, 2009:

it seem can only manage 4 port, how can i manage 20 computers with this router?

anonymous on February 14, 2009:

i have been looking for this, thank you...

i am goona try it

Petee on February 01, 2009:

Good information short and to the point. Now all I need to do is figure out how to back up all computers on the network one desktop one laptop on a WD mybook.

5 star ...

anonymous on October 22, 2008:

Excellent explanation =)

OldGrampa on October 08, 2008:

Very interesting. We share an internet connection here at home using a regular router, now I am considering getting one like this to help manage our usage better.

packetlog on September 19, 2008:

very helpful. thanks