Home Latest News The Netflix Speed Problem You Don't Even Know You Have – Forbes

The Netflix Speed Problem You Don't Even Know You Have – Forbes

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Broadband providers can struggle to stream Netflix
A study has revealed that millions of broadband customers are suffering from terrible Netflix download speeds – but they might never have noticed thanks to clever optimization work by the streaming firm.
SamKnows monitors real-world broadband traffic on millions of connections around the world, including the performance of Netflix streams.
It has discovered that even on connections with a decent download speed of say 60Mbits/sec or 70Mbits/sec – more than enough to download several Netflix HD streams simultaneously – customers might only get a tiny fraction of that speed when streaming from Netflix, potentially causing streams to pause and buffer.
The problem stems, ironically, from measures taken by Netflix and internet service providers (ISPs) to push Netflix content closer to viewers.
Major broadband providers will often put Netflix content servers within their own networks. These store copies of Netflix’s most popular shows and movies, meaning that when the customer attempts to stream a popular title, the data has less distance to travel, reducing internet congestion.
At least, that’s the theory. In practice, SamKnows has found that peak-time demand on these Netflix content servers within broadband providers’ own networks can cause download speeds to plummet.
Peak-time Netflix speeds can suffer on some networks
The graph embedded above shows how Netflix streaming speeds tumbled on the Vodafone UK fixed-line broadband network during one week in September 2020. The data shows many customers suffering from Netflix download speeds that were below 10Mbits/sec during the peak evening hours, which may have impacted their ability to stream in Ultra HD/4K or stream regular HD content on multiple devices simultaneously. Other broadband providers showed similar patterns.
SamKnows founder and chief technology officer, Sam Crawford, says it’s peak-time congestion on those Netflix caches (or CDNs) that is to blame. “The [caching] locations are extremely busy in the ISPs’ networks – they probably account for more than 50% of their traffic overall,” said Crawford.
“Whilst an ISP may have a huge nationwide network, traffic really will concentrate on these CDN locations. They can have congestion there.”
Customers may be fooled into thinking the problem lies with Netflix itself because when they run a regular internet speed test, the results show their speeds are fine. However, those speed tests aren’t using real-world application data, but dummy data on a heavily optimized speed test server. That, says Crawford, is “why you end up in this slightly perverse situation where you can get better speed tests from your ISP to a server outside of the ISP’s network, than you can when downloading Netflix content from a server that is much, much closer to you and inside the ISP’s network”.
Given this peak-time crunch, which has been detected on the networks of multiple broadband providers, it’s perhaps surprising that more customers don’t complain of terrible Netflix streaming performance.
However, Netflix has done a lot of work in recent years to optimize streams so that they consume less internet bandwidth.
Until last year, Netflix streams were delivered on what’s known as a “fixed-bitrate ladder”, which meant that the amount of bandwidth required was determined by the resolution of the video. So, for example, a Full HD show would require a bitrate of 5Mbits/sec, while Ultra HD/4K content would need 16Mbits/sec.
Now, however, Netflix has optimized the content of each show, or even individual scenes within a show. That has the seen average bitrate needed for Ultra HD content drop from 16Mbits/sec to only 6.5Mbits/sec. Some animated 4K content which is easier to optimize can be delivered in as little as 1.8Mbits/sec.
That means that – even if broadband providers are suffering heavy congestion on their Netflix content servers – end customers are unlikely to notice disruption to their streams. Netflix claims its optimizations have reduced the amount of rebuffers – pauses while the video attempts to catch up – by 65%.
In short, your broadband provider may have a serious Netflix speed problem, but you might never know about it.

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