Traffic engineering: what it is and how it can improve your service as an ISP

Adrian Alberto Amaya Casas

Adrian Alberto Amaya Casas

Can ISPs find strategies to improve their service? Of course they can. And understanding traffic engineering is a good step toward doing so.

Let's start at the beginning: what is traffic engineering? It consists of the design, implementation and management of communication networks to optimize data flow and ensure optimal performance. In the context of Internet Service Providers (ISPs), traffic engineering plays a crucial role in improving the quality of service offered to users.


1. Importance and Benefits of Traffic Engineering for ISPs

For ISPs, traffic engineering is not just an option, but an imperative. In a digital ecosystem where demand for broadband is increasing exponentially, providers face the challenge of managing limited resources in the face of unlimited needs; users, for example, demand speed, very short response times and connections they can rely on. 

Effective implementation of traffic engineering strategies enables ISPs to improve bandwidth management and reduce latency, as well as increase customer satisfaction by minimizing outages and ensuring smooth, agile content delivery.

By incorporating traffic engineering techniques, such as selecting traffic routes, managing network capacity and setting routing policies to ensure that existing resources are used in the most efficient manner, an ISP can significantly improve the use of network resources, resulting in a better service experience for end users.


2. Traffic engineering techniques

But what are those traffic engineering techniques? Here are a few:

Based on selecting the best traffic route

Policy-based routing

This technique allows ISPs to direct network traffic through specific routes based on predefined policies, which may include criteria such as traffic type, source, destination and current network load. Policy-based routing is manually configured and can be complex to operate in order to manage connectivity and ensure quality of service, especially in large networks.

Routing based on dynamic routing protocols (BGP)

This technique allows ISPs to use dynamic routing protocol such as BGP (Border Gateway Protocol), which by modifying some of its attributes allows selecting the best route to a destination in order to always guarantee the shortest response time and therefore the best customer experience.

Multiprotocol label switching (MPLS)

MPLS is a protocol that enables the implementation of traffic engineering through the assignment of labels and the use of protocols that allow ISPs to direct and manage network traffic by creating tunnels. These tunnels, or "virtual paths" through the network, facilitate the optimization of traffic flow and improve network efficiency by allowing a service's traffic to be based on customer need rather than network structure.


Based on bandwidth management

Congestion control and quality of service (QoS)

Implementing congestion control and QoS mechanisms allows ISPs to prioritize traffic according to its importance, ensuring bandwidth for critical applications while limiting traffic from other less critical applications at times of high demand. These techniques are essential to maintain reliable, high-quality connectivity for all users.

Traffic shaping y policing

The «traffic shaping» y el «policing» are techniques used to regulate the flow of data on a network, smoothing traffic peaks and ensuring compliance with bandwidth usage policies. These practices are essential to prevent network overloading and ensure an equitable distribution of bandwidth.


3. Trends in traffic engineering

Telemetry and predictive analytics

The use of advanced telemetry and predictive analytics allows ISPs to monitor network conditions in real time and foresee potential problems before they occur. This data can be used to make proactive traffic engineering decisions, dynamically adjusting routes and resource allocation as needed.

 SDN (software-defined networking) 

SDN technologies provide ISPs with unprecedented flexibility and manageability, allowing network configurations, policies and routing to be dynamically programmed. This not only reduces operational and capital costs, but also enables faster and more flexible deployment of new and customized services.


4. Traffic engineering use cases

By now you may be clear about the potential of traffic engineering, but the important thing is that you know what you can use it for.  

Bandwidth management

ISPs use traffic engineering to allocate bandwidth and priority efficiently among different types of traffic, such as voice, video and data. This ensures that critical services, such as VoIP calls or video streaming, have the priority and resources they need to function without interruption, improving the experience for end users.

Network congestion mitigation

Through traffic engineering techniques, ISPs can prevent and mitigate network congestion by identifying and redirecting traffic through less congested routes. This not only improves connectivity and user experience, but also optimizes the use of existing infrastructure, avoiding overloads and potential downtime.

Capacity planning and network expansion

ISPs rely on traffic engineering for strategic planning of their network capacity and to make informed decisions about future expansions. By analyzing traffic patterns and projecting future growth, providers can anticipate infrastructure needs, optimizing investments and avoiding bottlenecks before they affect users.

Network security

Traffic engineering also plays a crucial role in network security, enabling ISPs to detect and respond to abnormal traffic patterns that could indicate attempted cyber attacks, such as distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. Through dynamic network reconfiguration, providers can isolate or mitigate these attacks, minimizing their impact on connectivity and user service.

Finally, traffic engineering makes it easier for ISPs to implement customized traffic policies, allowing them to offer different service levels (SLAs) to different user segments or applications. This can include the prioritization of resources to business customers or emergency services, thus guaranteeing connectivity and performance according to the specific requirements of each case.

Los ISP deben estar preparados para enfrentar desafíos futuros, incluyendo el crecimiento exponencial del tráfico de datos y la diversificación de las aplicaciones en línea (1)

5. Future challenges of traffic engineering

Implementing traffic engineering strategies requires an initial investment in technology and training, but the long-term benefits more than justify this outlay. ISPs must be prepared to meet future challenges, including the exponential growth of data traffic and the diversification of online applications, which demand a more robust and adaptable network infrastructure. As well as continuous evolution is critical for ISPs to not only survive, but thrive in the dynamic digital marketplace.

The information gained from practicing traffic engineering techniques is an essential part of any ISP's strategy to deliver superior service quality. Through its implementation, providers can ensure a network that is resilient, efficient and capable of meeting the demands of the present and the future.

Remember: to successfully implement traffic engineering in an ISP, it is necessary to conduct a thorough analysis of the existing network, identify problem areas and design specific strategies to address them. It is important to have personnel trained in these techniques and to keep up to date with the latest trends and technologies in the field.


Are you an ISP and need to implement traffic engineering?


Adrian Alberto Amaya Casas

Adrian Alberto Amaya Casas

With 16 years of experience in telecommunications, Adrian has held key roles, from post-sales technical support to network connectivity specialist. His expertise in the OSI model (layers 1-3) translates into robust solutions, operational efficiency, and problem-solving skills. Recognized for his work ethic and leadership abilities, he has received awards for research and has completed professional development courses.