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Get around traffic shaping with a VPN (tested on Three)
#1
One common issue people contact me about is slow speed on their Three connection.  A massive drop-off in speed after 8pm is usually a good indication of contention, which can be either on the mast, interference from other masts or contention further upstream.  In some cases, the drop-off in speed is due to traffic shaping, where certain services such as CDN traffic (YouTube, CloudFlare, Amazon, etc.) is given priority over other traffic such as file downloads and streaming from less well-known sources.

Where the slow speed is due to traffic shaping, getting around it involves trying to find a VPN server on a host that gets priority.  CloudFlare's WARP+ service is an example, but is currently only available for Android and iOS at this time of posting. 

After testing various VPNs, I found that the Hide Me VPN gets priority when using its Dutch and German servers using the SSTP protocol.  I have yet to try other servers as I have been testing using their limited free account.


Testing for traffic shaping

Before signing up to a VPN service, I first recommend checking if traffic shaping is the culprit.  The most reliable test on the Three network involves timing how long it takes to download the 100MB file on the following two links (use a stopwatch):

Leaseweb: https://mirror.leaseweb.com/speedtest/
Vultr: https://ams-nl-ping.vultr.com/

If the Vultr file downloaded much faster, this issue is very likely traffic shaping, in which case I suggest try the Hide Me VPN with a free account and configure the Network Protocol to SSTP as mentioned below. If you currently have a VPN service, check if there is a setting to use the SSTP network protocol, which might also work.

With one Three site I tested around 10pm, the difference was massive.  I chose the 10MB Leaseweb file as the 100MB file was taking too long:
   

The Vultr 100MB file for comparison:
   

If there is little difference in the download speed (i.e. both are slow), the issue is not traffic shaping.  In this case, the issue may be contention on the cell tower itself or with its backhaul feed, particularly if the speed drops off in the evening.  Another issue could be interference from other masts.  If the SINR signal reading is regularly dipping below 0, interference is the culprit, i.e. consider getting a directional outdoor antenna.  


Configuring the Hide Me VPN

Click the Settings cog wheel icon:
   

Go into VPN Protocol on the left (1), then tick SSTP (2):
   

Connect to the Netherlands VPN server and try re-downloading the Leaseweb 100MB file to see if it downloads any quicker.  


Test-run with an affected Three site

When most people think of running speed tests, they head straight to Ookla's Speedtest.  While it is great for finding what ISPs can potentially deliver, personally I don't find it that useful for diagnostics or troubleshooting.  Anyway, here's the Ookla speed test results without the VPN, via the Amsterdam VPN server and finally via the Germany VPN server, all using the same Blacknight speed test server:
[Image: 9447828293.png] [Image: 9447856767.png] [Image: 9447886675.png]

The following are via the Amsterdam and Germany VPN servers, letting Ookla automatically choose the server:
[Image: 9447849710.png] [Image: 9447882399.png]

Going by Ookla's test results, it looks like the VPN doubles the speed.  Well... far from it! Tongue  

Let's look at some more real world tests... Big Grin

Personally, my favourite diagnostic speed test is testmy.net.  It basically simulates a stopwatch timing by downloading a specific block size and calculating the speed based on how long it took.  

TestMy Germany server - Direct connection, VPN server in Netherlands, VPN server in Germany:
[Image: xjSXel7X1.png] [Image: pp-nRK-i7.png] [Image: _YFgkLMOw.png]

TestMy Texas server - Direct connection, VPN server in Netherlands, VPN server in Germany:
[Image: SxCz4uuth.png] [Image: Csb9IjsPO.png] [Image: aAlBt-iaK.png]

TestMy Australia server - Direct connection, VPN server in Netherlands, VPN server in Germany:
[Image: xx2QGuuCe.png] [Image: Gyo4W64lV.png] [Image: F1xCm4qlJ.png]

Now let's look at a screenshot of the Leaseweb 10MB file downloading without the VPN:
   

Downloading the larger 100MB file from Leaseweb with the VPN connected to Amsterdam:  Cool
   

Stopwatch timings with Leaseweb test files:
Direct download (10MB file): 42.44s (=1.9Mbps, 7m04s for 100MB!)
Amsterdam VPN server (100MB file): 31.9s (=25.1Mbps, =13.3x faster)
Germany VPN server (100MB file): 35.9s (=22.3Mbps, 11.8x faster)

That's the difference between being able to stream at standard definition and 4K!
Note: I do not recommend streaming in 4K on a wireless network such as 4G, fixed wireless or public Wi-Fi as this can have a significant impact on other users using it in the area.

Stopwatch timings with Vultr NL test files:
Direct download (100MB file): 23.3s
Amsterdam VPN server (100MB file): 31.2s (75% the speed)
Germany VPN server (100MB file): 41.9s (56% the speed)

As the Vultr files were already prioritised on Three, there is nothing to be gained from using the VPN with these.  On the other hand, these still make good test files to see how the VPN server compares with a direct connection.  As I'm using a free account, it's likely these servers are more congested than those available with a paid subscription.

Stopwatch timings downloading Kodi 18.6 for Windows 64-bit (60.2MB):
Tested: 19th May 2020 ~9:55pm
Direct download: 4m28s
Amsterdam VPN server: 22s
Germany VPN server: 22s
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