Network congestion occurs when traffic exceeds a network’s maximum capacity. Networks have a bandwidth allocation that specifies the set volume of data transmissions they can handle. When there’s too much data, networks can get clogged. This networking issue results in poor video quality, inability to play online games, and an overall reduction in service quality.

There can be several causes of network congestion. You may have too many connected devices or one device may be consuming too much bandwidth. Old routers can also slow down traffic, resulting in network congestion. Internet service providers (ISPs) experience network congestion as well. When this happens, they may throttle or restrict your Internet speed to manage traffic and fix the congestion.

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Network congestion can affect productivity and businesses. When network congestion happens in web servers, website users may have to wait long for pages to load. Most users would abandon the website and move on to another.

Therefore, network congestion has to be addressed immediately. A basic understanding of this networking problem may help, so we discussed network congestion in the following sections.

What Causes Network Congestion?

Below are some of the most common reasons why networks get congested.

  • Bandwidth limit and monopoly: ISPs allocate specific bandwidth to a network. When a user or an application takes up too much of that, network congestion can occur, and other users or applications may have trouble transmitting data.
  • Outdated hardware: No matter how huge a network’s bandwidth allocation is, it can still get congested when its hardware is outdated or incompatible. It’s essential to upgrade routers, servers, firmware, and other network hardware from time to time.
  • Cyber attacks: Network congestion can be caused by a deliberate security assault that aims to cripple a network. One example is a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack where malicious actors flood servers with too many requests to congest traffic and render applications and services unusable.
  • Poor network management: Sometimes, congestions happen because of how roads are laid out. In the same way, data flow can be affected if the network is not set up correctly. For instance, large networks should have subnets or network segments, with each subnet customized based on requirements and usage patterns.

What Are Signs of Network Congestion?

To know if you are experiencing network congestion, look for these signs:

  • Performance degradation: This symptom could be as mild as web pages having a long loading time. It can also be as severe as applications crashing, video calls dropping, and videogames refusing to load.
  • Overall poor quality: If a network is congested, loss of data packets occurs, which results in blurred images, long buffering in videos, high gaming latency, and choppy calls.
  • Connection timeout: The error code ERR_CONNECTION_TIMED_OUT could signify that a network is congested. The website’s server has received the request, but the data transmission is too slow because of network congestion. As shown by the image below, the timeout can be caused by other things like a firewall or proxy. However, the first thing to check is the network connection.
signs of network congestion
  • Dropped wireless connection: All devices connected to a wireless network compete for bandwidth. When there are too many connected devices, some connections may drop, requiring users to reconnect continuously.

You may notice these signs more at night since more people generally use the Internet, causing network congestion.

How Do You Avoid Network Congestion?

If network congestion already occurs, it’s best to get to its root cause. As mentioned, one reason could be bandwidth limitation, for which you may need to ask your ISP to increase your limit. This usually comes at an additional cost.

Upgrading network hardware, such as routers, servers, and switches, can also help prevent network congestion. Firmware has to be updated periodically as well.

You may also try disconnecting devices from the network to lessen the congestion. Although unused, these devices may still use up bandwidth in the background.

Ultimately, network administrators implement subnets to divide the network into more manageable and resizable volumes. Networks can have different subnets for gaming, which would require more bandwidth. Another smaller subnet can be allocated for regular web browsing.

Internet users experience network congestion all the time, and understanding its possible causes can help prevent or fix it.