Any seasoned South African gamer will tell you that for years gamers in this country have struggled with the frustrations of best-effort ADSL services. Problems such as congestion, packet loss, latency spikes and ageing copper cables can turn anyone from ‘Pasha Biceps’ into ‘Pasha Cryceps’.
It, therefore, strikes one as particularly ironic that a brand new state-of-the-art ADSL diagnostic and line management system, recently deployed by Telkom, is once again causing frustration and headaches for SA gamers.
For those of you who only come up for Cola refills and bathroom breaks, the new system is called ASSIA. It was deployed by Telkom on all modernised DSL exchanges late last year and its job is essentially to modernise and automate the management of ADSL services. It achieves this by putting each line through an optimisation process, based on all of the different quality measurements and tests which can be run on the line, and using these to adjust the line to its best possible speed settings.
ASSIA could prove very useful as ISPs will have access to information about possible faults affecting the ADSL line. ASSIA also automatically deploys a more sophisticated error-correction system on the line, called ‘interleaving’, which means even a line with sub-standard performance could be smoothed out and deliver a reasonable experience for activities like downloads, surfing and video streaming.
Unfortunately, every gamer knows that magic comes at a cost, and the price in the case of ASSIA’s new error-correction system, is latency.
Based on the initial feedback and anecdotal evidence brought to us so far, DSL users across the board are experiencing an increase of between 15-20 milliseconds (ms) in the base latency of their services. In other words, where a user previously had a 9ms ping to local first-person shooter (FPS) servers on their service, they could now get somewhere between a 20-30ms ping.
For the average user, that bump in latency probably doesn’t mean much, and even the average gamers probably aren’t really noticing. However, for the FPS boys and girls out there who take things a little more seriously, it’s understandable that they may find this increase quite upsetting. But wait, it gets worse… Besides increasing the base latency across the board, the consensus from gamers around the world is that interleaving is generally not a very good system of error-correction to use when you’re playing FPS games.
The reasons for this are quite convoluted, and we won’t go into them in detail here. Suffice it to say, if the game uses UDP protocols, and already has error-handling systems built into the net code, when interleaving comes along and tries to delay the packets and send them all out in a neat orderly fashion, the server starts to get bent out of shape. This happens with flagrant disregard for where you, your bullets, your blood and your tears happen to be at any given time, and rubber banding and teleporting is likely to ensue.
In other words, if your line quality is poor and interleaving spends a lot of time putting your packets back in the right order, it’s likely to make your experience playing first-person shooters worse, not better.
While in other countries some ISPs will dynamically switch to interleaving only on lines that need it, or allow users to choose between interleaving and the lower latency, fast-pathing error-correction we’ve had up until now, Telkom have firmly made up their minds that interleaving will be a standard feature on all ASSIA-managed lines, and will be deployed in a one-size-fits-all fashion.
All things considered, there is now definitely more reason to pray for that fibre roll-out in your neighborhood.
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