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Are all data packets treated equally?

How much control do providers and users have over the packets that they send over the Internet? Are all packets treated equally?

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In general, there's not much that an individual user can do to affect the way that their traffic is treated on the Internet. However, there are measures that organizations can take to control the treatment of different classes of traffic on their network and across the Internet. This technology is known as quality of service (QoS), and it's an active area of networking research and experimentation.

QoS is often used on local networks to ensure that high priority traffic receives precedence over other network uses. For example, if your organization runs a voice over IP (VoIP) telephone system, it's likely that you'd want to prioritize that traffic over data communications. Users are much more likely to tolerate a slowdown in their Internet traffic than a disruption in their telephone conversations.

QoS on the Internet is a trickier issue. The short answer is that there isn't really a single, accepted approach to provide QoS between two arbitrary endpoints. However, an organization can certainly negotiate with its service provider to increase the priority of certain types of traffic on a provider's network segments.

You may also be interested in reading the tip, Analyst debunks network QoS myths, brought to you by

More information:

  • Read how implementing VoIP requires careful QoS considerations.
  • Visit's Network Access Control Learning Guide.
  • This was first published in February 2007

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