Friday, 27 May 2016

Bandwidth Management for Home Networks

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If you are looking to share your home internet connection between several people and control their bandwidth, you are reading the right article. Be it your roommate who is making your games lag by downloading movies all the time, or your sister who's watching YouTube and making your web browsing slow, there is a great and cheap solution: getting a router with proper QoS (Quality of Service) capabilities.

Usually, home routers have very limited options when it comes to controlling bandwidth by using QoS. It usually involves something like checking an option to prioritize games, and that's it. However, you can buy a cheap ($60) router and turn it into a powerful device that can perform nearly all functions of expensive, commercial routers. I'll take WRT54GL model from Linksys as an example, since I'm most familiar with it, but there really are more options to choose (like several cheaper ASUS models). For the sake of simplicity, I'll keep to this model, since it's really a great choice.

After buying your cheap router, how do you turn it into something much more powerful? That's pretty simple really, you have to 'flash' the firmware, that is, install a third party firmware package onto the router. It may sound complicated, but it merely involves uploading the package using a very simple web interface - just like you would upload a picture to ImageShack, for instance. You will be able to use many advanced features then, such as unlimited port forwarding, very good QoS control, custom firewall scripts and so on (features will differ between different firmware projects).

Which firmware to choose then? There are plenty, but I'd highly recommend Tomato. It's very stable, it actually might make your router faster, and it has tons of features, such as: wireless signal boost, bandwidth monitoring and all kinds of graphs you can view, connection details, and my favorite: a cool QoS control. You can basically prioritize traffic in any way you want: give more priority to your PC, web browsing, voice chats, games, or whatever; and give less priority to large downloads and such. You can even block whatever traffic you want, by port, mac address or l7 filter.

You might have already bought a WRT54G(L) box, or a similar router which is capable of running Linux-based firmware, and you might still be using the default firmware, and wondering why would one want to flash it? There are a number of reasons, really, but if the default firmware works for you and you don't notice any problems or miss any features, you should probably just keep using it. One of the main problems I encountered immediately was that p2p programs used up a lot of connections, and there were not enough left for the regular web browsing (and the router forces a global 512 connections limit). You can't change that in the default firmware, but most custom firmware, like Tomato, lets you change the maximum connections limit; in fact, as soon as you install it, it sets a 2048 limit by default. The other problem with default firmware I encountered is very limited QoS control, and third party firmware fixes that like I explained in the paragraph above.

To wrap it up: buy a WRT54GL box; flash the third party firmare; enjoy! If you find that Tomato isn't for you, then there are a number of alternative third party firmware, such as DD-WRT, OpenWRT and Thibor. You can find more info about those on the Linksys forums.

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