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Characterizing and Improving Last-Mile Performance Using Home Networking Infrastructure

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More than a billion people access the Internet through residential broadband connections worldwide, and this number is projected to grow further. Surprisingly, little is known about some important properties of these networks: What performance do users obtain from their ISP ? What factors affect performance of broadband networks? Are users bottlenecked by their ISP or by their home network? How are applications such as the Web affected by these networks? Answering these questions is difficult; there is tremendous diversity of technologies and applications in home and broadband networks. While a lot of research has tackled these questions piecemeal, the lack of a good vantage point to obtain good measurements from these networks makes it notably difficult to do a holistic characterization of the “last mile”.

The home gateway presents a unique vantage point to characterize home and access networks and mitigate performance bottlenecks that are specific to such networks. It is always on and, as the hub of the network, it can directly observe the home network, the access network, and user traffic. In this talk, I describe one such gateway-based platform, BISmark, that currently has nearly 200 active access points in over 20 countries. I will present a holistic characterization of three important components of the last mile using the gateway as the vantage point: the access link that connects the user to the wider Internet, the home network to which devices connect, and the performance of the Web, one of the most commonly used applications in today’s Internet.

BISmark uses custom gateways to enable measurements and evaluate performance optimizations directly from home networks. I will present a characterization of access link performance in the US using measurements from the gateway; I evaluate existing techniques and propose new techniques that help us understand these networks better. I will then describe a new system that uses passive measurements at the gateway to localize bottlenecks to either the wireless network or the access link. Using this system, which has been deployed in 64 homes worldwide, I characterize the nature of bottlenecks, and the state of the wireless network in these homes – specifically I show how the wireless network is rarely the bottleneck as throughput exceeds 35 Mbits/s. Finally, I characterize bottlenecks that affect Web performance that are specific to the last mile. I will show how latency in the last mile results in page load times stagnating at throughput exceeding 16 Mbits/s, and how simple techniques deployed at the gateway can mitigate these bottlenecks.

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