While the picture above is the crowded Russian subway, it’s a great metaphor for what happens at the video providers servers during the season premiere of popular shows like “The Walking Dead”
Whether you watch TV without cable or are still paying for cable TV, streaming video is a necessity for most home networks. While home routers have become relatively easy to set up, optimizing your network for peak performance requires copious amounts of time and patience.
While an out of the box router configuration will perform just fine most of the time, the network will show it’s flawed when network traffic is heavy. One of the heaviest types of network traffic tends to be everyone’s favorite. I’m talking about video.
From kids watching YouTube, to streaming on your Roku; video throws a lot of data on your network. When Netflix starts buffering, or Sling TV cuts out during The Walking Dead, our first instinct is to blame your streaming device or the streaming service.
When a streaming service becomes overloaded, it starts freeing up weaker connections in favor of the stronger ones. If you are watching a stream at this time and everyone else in your house is clogging your home network, then you might not have a strong connection to the video provider being overloaded. That means you get dropped in favor of those with better connections.
While streaming services should be optimized to guarantee peak performance and limit dropped video, there are some things we can do on our end to lower our chances of dropping the stream at these times. In fact, a few simple adjustments to your router’s QoS could be just what you need to end the streaming blues.
What is QoS?
QoS stands for Quality of Service and the term is generally used to describe the overall performance of a network. If you haven’t heard of QoS, don’t worry. It probably just means that you went on dates in high school.
Since I spent my time in high school listening to Rush and playing Dungeons and Dragons, I know a large majority of home routers have the ability to define QoS settings. This allows you to prioritize certain types of network traffic, give priority to certain devices, and even set minimum and maximum bandwidth limits for devices on your network.
Today I’m going to show you how to use those settings to guarantee the network pipe is always big enough to get your TV show, movie, or video to your favorite streaming device. To do this we will set the QoS settings to reserve enough bandwidth to watch HD video regardless of what else is happening on your network.
Changing Your Routers QoS Settings
Changing these settings differ slightly from the router to router. Below, I’ll demonstrate how to adjust those setting on a TP-LINK Router. I’ll also show you on the router I received from my Verizon Fios internet only plan, the Actiontec MI424W. These two routers cover two of the most common ways to set QoS and guarantee bandwidth to a certain device.
However, before we reserve bandwidth for your streaming device, we need to determine your network’s total available bandwidth. After we determine the Internet connection speed from your ISP, we will then log into the router to configure QoS.
Determine Your Internet Speed
To manage QoS in affordable routers like the TP-Link Archer series, we first need to determine how much bandwidth is available to you. You can check your networks download speeds at this link. While your ISP may say you have a 50 Mbps line, you’ll typically find it’s either above and below that.
When you run your test, be sure that no other devices are using the line. It also works best if you run the test from a device that has a good network connection. An Ethernet wired device is usually the best option.
Run the test a few times to get an idea of the average speed and write it down. We will need it later.
Log Into Your Router
To set your routers QoS settings the first thing we need to do is log into your router that acts as the gateway between your network and the Internet. Before we do that we need to get the IP address of the router that acts as your gateway to the internet. Here is a handy article on figuring your gateway routers address on any device.
Now that you have your routers IP, type it into the browser just as you were typing a website URL. Once you hit enter you will be prompted for a username and password. Ideally, you set this up when the router was installed. If not, it may be on a sticker somewhere on the router. If it’s not there then check the routers manual for the default name and password. The manual can be downloaded from your router manufactures website.
If none of that works, you can use the manual to set your routers to its factory default and set up a new admin username and password.
QoS Setting in TP-LINK Routers
Now that we know what your bandwidth is and we are logged into your router, we can set up QoS. The settings may vary in non-TP-Link devices, but the process will be similar. You can always check your router’s manual for specific guidance.
To set up QoS on this router we basically tell the router how much total bandwidth it has and then we reserve a bit of that total for your chosen device. For HD video I recommend about 5.5 Mbps (5500 kbps). For SD video I’d use about 2 Mbps.
Since your router most likely dynamically assigns IP addresses to devices on the network, the device you want to set up QoS for has the potential to change. If you previously set up a way for your device to retain it’s address, then you do not need to worry about this. Otherwise, we want to stop the address from changing.
After logging in to your router, navigate to the “DHCP Settings Menu” under “DHCP.” This tells your router the IP address range to hand out to devices on your network. The setting above tells my router that it can assign 100 different addresses (192.168.0.100 to 192.168.168.0.199). We need to know this for the next steps.
In order for your router to assign a specific IP address to a given device, your router needs a way of recognizing that device. Every device that can connect to a network has a unique hardware address assigned to its network card called a MAC address. We are going to tell your router to assign the same IP address to the unique MAC address of the streaming device you want to set QoS for.
MAC addresses are typically found in the network settings of most streaming devices. On my Roku I went to “Settings” -> “Network” -> “Wireless Setting” and my MAC address was shown. Here is a great WikiHow on finding MAC address of various devices. As you can see above my MAC address will always be assigned the IP address of 192.168.0.150.
Now that we can isolate the IP address of the device we care about, we can enable QOS for that device. First we let the router know how much bandwidth we have from our internet service provider.
Under “Bandwidth Control” then “Control Settings” set the ingress bandwidth to your download speed and your egress bandwidth to your upload speed. This setting throttles your router to that speed, so if your ISP updates your speed you would want to update these settings. My download speed routinely comes in around 50 Mbps (50000 Kbps), and my upload around 30 Mbps (30000 Kbps). Next we set a rule to connect the dots.
The ADSL vs Other is typically going to be “Other.” The only U.S. broadband provider I’m aware of using ADSL is ATT U-Verse. Check with your ISP to be sure they are not using ADSL.
Click “Rules List” under “Bandwidth Control” and then “Add New”
The next screen will let you set up the IP address for the streaming device. These settings allow a range of IP addresses. Therefore, you can set up more than one device by assigning more IP address to Mac address reservations as was previously shown. Remember, we should be careful to not reserve too much bandwidth. Each bit of bandwidth we reserve is held back from other devices on the network when the devices meeting the rules are active on the network.
Note how I assigned the port range to 1-99999. This allows all traffic to trigger the rule. Also, note that I set my min and max download speed to 5.5 Mbps to 12 Mbps. This guarantees the minimum required to stream HD at 1080p but sets the maximum limit high enough to stream 4K video. You may not want to limit your maximum if your device isn’t purely for video streaming.
I also set the upload limits low due to the Roku sending little traffic upstream. Again you may not want to set limits, which would mean setting your min at 0 and your max to the total limit we set in the previous step (30,000 kbps in my case.)
Your router is now optimized to guarantee adequate bandwidth to your streaming device.
QoS Setting in Verizon FiOS Actiontec MI424W
After logging into my Verizon Fios Router click the “Advanced” tab at the top. Verizon then sends a scary “make sure you know what you are doing message” which I just ignore and click yes to continue. Under the picture of the toolbox on the left, click “Quality of Service (QoS)”
Then click “Traffic Shaping” on the left. This will allow you to create traffic shaping rules we can then apply to the streaming device we want to set QoS for. Click add and then a drop-down will appear. Choose “Network (Home/Office).
Leave the “Tx Bandwidth”, “Tx Serialization” as is for now and make sure Queue Policy is set to “Class Based.” Tx stands for “Transmit” and in this context indicates the transmit bandwidth from your router to other devices. Click “add” under “default” to add a transmit rule.
Now name your “Shaping Class” set the priority to higher priority (lower number) then the default of 4. I used 3. Then set the minimum bandwidth to 5500 Kbps. That’s enough to stream HD video. then click apply.
Notice how the “Video Stream” class has now been added as a class. Now set the Tx Bandwidth to the download speed you measured from your ISP. Mine is set to 50000 Kbps or 50 Mbps. Then click “Apply.”
Now it’s time to apply the rule. On the left menu, click on “Traffic Priority”, then click “add” for “QoS Input Rules” next to “Network (Home/Office) Rules.” It’s the top right “add” on the picture above.
Select the device name of the streaming device you want to set QoS for from the “Destination Address” drop-down. Leave the source address as “any.” Then click the “Set Tx Class Name” check box.
Set the TX class name to the one you set up, “Video Stream” in this case. Click apply and then we are done. You have just established a guaranteed pipe for your streaming device.
Enjoy Smooth Streaming
We used to have issues with a couple of streaming services cutting out every now and then. After optimizing my streaming setup and setting QoS we haven’t had a single issue streaming on our Roku device. So while some blame resides with the provider of the stream, there are things you can do to mitigate potential issues.
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