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What is network congestion?

September 14th, 2020

In short, network congestion occurs when the network is exchanging/carrying more data than it can comfortably handle. This also could be a reason why one minute you are able to connect your devices to a network, then lose the connection altogether and have a hard time reconnecting. 


A typical reason for network reasons for network congestion isare: that you are connecting too many devices at once - while most higher-end wireless routers state they can support up to 250 devices, this doesn’t mean that your bandwidth can support those devices, and likely the maximum without doing some large scale networking in your home to maximize your personal home bandwidth would be around the 30 device range. Each time a device connects to a network, it decreases the availability to the network as the “internet” is now being shared by more and more devices. Residential or home connections versus commercial or office connections introduce other challenges: on a home network, for instance, each device is sharing 1 access point (for wireless connections) to connect to the network being shared by devices, whereas an office network typically has more than 1 access point for devices to connect to, thus reducing the number of devices per access point on the local network. 

Another reason for network congestion are “Bandwidth Hogs”. These are devices or users that consumes much more data than other devices or users on the same network. This is typically an App, user or device that requires or that is utilizing a large amount of data to run or to keep connected to the network. A prime example of this are gamers; some systems and games take up a large amount of the available bandwidth to operate (especially those which you play online (real-time) against other users) or those who frequently stream or download on their devices. While at times it is accidental (like a mobile device that is running constantly or an application that requires a constant connection), there are ways to monitor your bandwidth and see which devices and users are consuming the most.  

While we are talking about Bandwidth another reason for network congestion is low bandwidth, this is the “size of the pipe” that data shared over the Internet travels through. If it is not large enough to support all the traffic it becomes congested. This typically occurs during peak Internet usage times (remember LimeWire or Napster? And that it was always faster to download content later at night or very early in the morning? That was because it was the optimal time to get as much bandwidth). 

What is Bandwidth? Think of bandwidth similar to a garden hose, the flow of water is bandwidth. Each device and connection would be similar to putting a rock in the hose, each rock is now preventing or slowing the water from going through the hose.

Another reason for congested networks is security attacks, while most of us at work are very conscientious about file sharing, attachments and being safe on the web, at times the same is often overlooked, even ignored, while browsing at home. In a  studya study conducted in the US, only 67.3% of home users are protected by an antivirus. Security attacks come in all shapes and sizes, even as easy as clicking an article to read on Facebook (always double check the source), or accidentally navigating to an unsafe website, and while you might not know straight away that your network has been compromised, it is safe to say if suddenly - without changing much of your internet habits - you are experiencing congestion it might be worth to check for security threats on your devices.

All in all, you have probably experienced network congestion at some point or another by having trouble streaming while someone is gaming, encountered trouble accessing a website at peak time for Internet connectivity or items that are just not uploading at all.  During COVID-19 and work from home, you may have also had trouble with video collaboration and Internet-based audio calls where video drops and audio quality is poor and may become robotic-like or unintelligible. While there isn’t much that can be done to prevent it from happening every now and again, you can complete a check list to see if perhaps an App running in the background is taking up a lot of data, if you have a user that is constantly streaming or gaming, if your hardware might need to be updated, or if you might have a compromised network. Here are more examples of why network congestion happens, and some solutions on how to remedy the situation.

What’s Using My Bandwidth? 5 Tips to Monitor Home Network Usage

How to Deal With Congestion in Data Networks

Network Congestion – 5 Causes & How to Alleviate Issues with your Network being Congested!

Low Bandwidth Means Slow Network Performance

What is bandwidth?

5 Causes of Network Congestion – And How to Prevent Them