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Bandwidth Management for Home Networks

Updated on October 21, 2016

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 which 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

Linksys WRT54GL Wi-Fi Wireless-G Broadband Router
Linksys WRT54GL Wi-Fi Wireless-G Broadband Router

Great little device with wireless data links and a 4-port 100mbps Ethernet switch. Perfect for your home networking needs, although its CPU is too weak for high-speed internet connections (25mbps and higher).


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.

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.


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    • shellys-space profile image

      Shelly Sellers 4 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

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

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 4 years ago

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

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      preenit 5 years ago

      Thank for knowledge.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing! Great lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      jimmyworldstar 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      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 :)

    • Commandrix profile image

      Heidi 5 years ago from Benson, IL

      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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      yourstrategic 5 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      ibartolic 5 years ago

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

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      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

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

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

    • PocketfulofParis profile image

      PocketfulofParis 5 years ago

      great lens!

    • carny profile image

      carny 5 years ago

      @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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      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?

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