Network Congestion: Common Causes of Slow File Transfers

by Jim Donnelly | April 28, 2022

We’ve all experienced it: the dreaded network slowdown that causes dropped packets, slow traffic, performance slowdowns, failed data transfers, and unhappy users. This happens in every industry and affects all types of people but is most common with larger network throughput.

The type you often see coming from video editors or broadcasters who need to move high-resolution, large frame rate video files to and from clients, teammates, and third-party collaborators.

Video file transfer is one of those situations where network congestion is more apparent. Watching a transfer bar move at a snail’s pace is a helpless moment for many. In cases like this, it’s natural to blame the file transfer tool for either having an outage or performance issues.

Speaking from experience, as a file transfer company who specializes in moving large files, we can tinker with our product until we’re blue in the face, but, if our users face network congestion issues from their ISP or hardware, there’s very little we can do to keep the traffic flowing.

(That being said, MASV is better suited to handle a congested network than other file transfer services but more on this below.)

If you’re experiencing network congestion, in this post we will explore what exactly is network congestion? What are the telltale signs that your network is indeed congested? Common causes, and of course, how to fix network congestion.

Table of Contents:

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What is Network Congestion?

The term “network congestion” refers to the deterioration of quality of internet services which leads to packet loss and queue delays or the blocking of incoming connections (e.g. how fast files upload to a server). Network congestion occurs in cases of traffic overload to an internet connection, whereby a network has too many requests coming in which it can’t handle at a given time.

How Do I Know If My Network is Congested?

It’s usually pretty easy to spot a case of network congestion: in a nutshell, things move slowly (or even not at all). Users typically experience noticeable latency — otherwise known as delay or the time it takes for data packets to travel from start to finish. They also experience jitter, which is variability in delay, resulting in unpredictability. This can mean spikes and stalls where data is moving quickly one moment and grinding to a halt the next.

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What Are Some Causes of Network Congestion?

An old modem and router is a cause of network congestion

While congestion can and does occur at the ISP level, it’s also very common to experience these issues because of problems at the device level.

Indeed, congestion caused by something in the physical layer of your network is all too common – especially for, as mentioned, video professionals working on huge, high-resolution files in residential settings (work-from-home isn’t going anywhere).

Here are some of the most common causes:

A single internet connection

Your connection is, by far, the most common cause of network congestion in on-prem and home office environments. Even with the most expensive and capable router or other equipment, you’ll still inevitably run into traffic congestion with a standard broadband connection because all users and devices on your network must push through this shared, single pipe.

To borrow an old-school analogy, think about your home’s water pipe connecting to the municipal water supply. It wouldn’t matter how large and impressive your pipes are in your house. If the main line doesn’t have high pressure, it’s a bottleneck.

It doesn’t help that most residential internet connections are fabricated from older, slower technology like copper phone lines or coaxial cables. Not the ultra-fast fiber optics used in larger cables that cross oceans and continents.

Multiple devices on the network/older devices

This is another common culprit thanks to the internet of things (IoT): too many devices like smart fridges and TVs. One of the biggest bandwidth usage offenders in my house is my smart washer/dryer combo, which generates around 60 GBs of traffic per day…and I still have no idea why.

While most IoT devices don’t take up much bandwidth, too many Wi-Fi devices using the same network access point can lead to a slow network. Even smart light bulbs can eat up your physical network’s bandwidth and cause an issue if you’re not careful.

Another common cause of network congestion is using older devices (older devices, including outdated routers, can also be a major security issue

Your Wi-Fi or cable setup

Too many Wi-Fi (and other electrical devices) in a small, tightly packed area typically means too many signals. Wi-Fi or voltage signals from all your connected (and unconnected) network devices tend to compete. Too much noise from too many signals means they’ll inevitably cancel each other out, leading to — you guessed it — network congestion.

Interestingly, microwave ovens are one of the worst offenders in this regard. Yes, the thing that warms up your leftover lunch is the cause of your slow data transmission. As funny as that may be, it’s true. Microwave radiation can interfere with Wi-Fi signals because they share the same frequency (2.4GHz).

But it’s not just microwaves. Placing a wired connection next to a large speaker can cause signal degradation.

Your cable setup can also cause problems. Long cable runs are bad and can cause latency in your network, so make all your cables as short and efficient as possible. The reasoning here is pretty obvious. The longer the cable, the further data packets have to travel. On the plus side, however, you probably don’t need to worry about cable-caused latency unless your cable is more than 100 meters or so.

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Reducing Network Congestion?

From an ISP level, the best thing you can do to reduce network congestion is to boost your bandwidth. Increasing bandwidth is a simple way to minimize congestion. Using a higher bandwidth network can handle more devices and data while simultaneously processing more data than it could with a single bandwidth.

Unless you’re willing to pay for more internet, your hands are pretty much tied here. The good news is that, from a network device level, you can immediately do something to correct these issues.

  • Get a smart router that uses quality of service (QoS) protocols, which help prioritize critical traffic, so the most important data gets through first. Most routers don’t have much memory, and if their queue fills up quickly, they’ll start dropping packets. Better routers have larger memories and allow you to prioritize traffic.
  • Use cloud services over on-premise setups. This is specific to file transfer protocols. Cloud services are infinitely scalable with just a few clicks (or automatically), whereas on-prem configurations can’t scale quickly to meet huge spikes in demand. If you want to scale your on-prem setup, it’ll take way more CapEx and time than cloud.
  • Get a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) connection to reduce pressure on your single internet connection, but getting it installed will be expensive.
  • Ensure you don’t have too many devices running at once on the network.
  • Upgrade your older router and modem with newer network equipment.
  • Keep your cables short.
  • Keep signal interference low (always locate your router about 20-30 feet away from your microwave).

How MASV Helps Relieve Network Congestion

masv helps relieve network congestion

We designed MASV with network congestion problems top of mind.

Transmission Control Protocol (TCP)

First off, MASV is TCP-based, which means it’s not a bandwidth hog: unlike UDP connections, which don’t care much about fairness, one of the calling cards of TCP is that it detects congestion and reacts accordingly (usually by slowing down). By monitoring network traffic, TCP, and therefore MASV, maintains a steady flow of data by not contributing more traffic to an already clogged network.

Another hallmark of TCP’s congestion control is exponential backoff. That is what’s happening when your connection scales up in speed, drops, goes back up, and then stabilizes over time. That’s essentially TCP’s network congestion control doing its thing.

That’s a significant advantage when your network has real congestion and other users or devices in the network need access. TCP-based connections ensure we’re fair to them as well.

The downside, however, is that TCP can be slow at times. Because TCP transfers rely on acknowledgments from the target machine, transfers over large physical distances can also trick a single TCP connection into thinking there’s network congestion – slowing it down further.

MASV gets around this by establishing multiple connections for the same transfer. While each connection has a physical limit, they become a force multiplier that dramatically improves performance when added together. Our extensive global network of services also means your transfers never travel far before they hit our accelerated network (keeping the server closer to our users means better performance).

MASV Desktop App

Our users have even more control through the MASV desktop app, which features built-in bandwidth utilization and speed controls. So if you’re sending a file, but your kids are learning remotely, and your partner is on a video call, you can throttle your transfer back whenever you need to and open it up again when others don’t need that bandwidth.

In addition, our desktop app also includes a pause and resume feature to, well, pause and resume transfers at will. So, if you feel your network is congested, you can pause transfers that aren’t as important and give the critical files more bandwidth. Or, you can use our transfer priority feature and let MASV take care of the network balancing for you.

Finally, MASV automatically recovers from bad connections or network drops. Even if you have a bandwidth hog on your network, MASV will retry your transfer – not too aggressively, mind you, but relentlessly – so you can move on with other tasks without babysitting your transfer.

So what are you waiting for? Try MASV today and send that large data transmission with confidence. We’ll even give you 100 GBs of data free to send a nice, big file.

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