TalkTalk and DSCP and 19 second latency
This page is about in interesting problem that was reported to us, by a customer, in December 2021. We have written this up so that this page can be found if other people are seeing a similar problem.
We've masked the IP we're pinging in this page as it doesn't matter what IP you ping - in our tests though we were mostly pinging the IP of our LNS, as that is the 'next hop' on the customer's route to the internet.
For some reason, TalkTalk's kit is reading IP DSCP marks from IPv4 packets inside PPPoE, and then putting them in a funny queuing setup which results in latency quickly increasing to over 19 seconds:
1408 bytes from x.x.x.x: icmp_seq=986 ttl=63 time=19084.589 ms
Thank you to the customers (and non-customers) that helped run pings over their lines to help identify that this is a TalkTalk only issue.
the customer's home network is fairly typical, eg:
WiFi devices <-> Aruba AP22 <-> FireBrick 2900 <-> Huawei HG612 (bridge mode)
There are also a number of devices wired in via a switch and the FireBrick.
Our customer moved house in early 2021 and we provided a VDSL line and a FireBrick FB2900 Ethernet router. The VDSL was supplied over TalkTalk back-haul. At the same time the customer installed a set of new Aruba AP22 'Instant-On' access points to cover his new house in Wi-Fi.
The Wi-Fi itself works very well. But since the install the customer soon noticed problems with some 'real time' applications such as webRTC, Google Stadia, Nest Camera video streaming:
- Nest video camera video streaming was laggy and lossy
- With Google Stadia, the client software sometimes gives up completely and says the connection isn't good enough to play
- Video conferencing applications struggled but turning down the bit rate enough helped
The customer put this down to something odd on their network until they finally decided to investigate further.
Although A&A only have a single customer who has reported this, we expect anyone in the UK using a TalkTalk ADSL of VDSL line with an Aruba Instant-on access point will be affected with lag on some streaming applications.
pcaps revealed that the Aruba access point was marking some traffic with the DSCP flag CS6, and when there was enough traffic latency would increasingly build up.
Here is 100 pings - though to keep the page short, I've included only every 10th ping, but you get the idea:
ping -i 0.02 -z 192 -s 1400 -c 100 x.x.x.x PING x.x.x.x (x.x.x.x): 1400 data bytes 1408 bytes from x.x.x.x: icmp_seq=0 ttl=63 time=10.234 ms Request timeout for icmp_seq 10 1408 bytes from x.x.x.x: icmp_seq=10 ttl=63 time=37.160 ms 1408 bytes from x.x.x.x: icmp_seq=20 ttl=63 time=278.065 ms 1408 bytes from x.x.x.x: icmp_seq=30 ttl=63 time=386.798 ms Request timeout for icmp_seq 70 1408 bytes from x.x.x.x: icmp_seq=40 ttl=63 time=793.062 ms Request timeout for icmp_seq 80 1408 bytes from x.x.x.x: icmp_seq=50 ttl=63 time=836.497 ms 1408 bytes from x.x.x.x: icmp_seq=60 ttl=63 time=1040.796 ms 1408 bytes from x.x.x.x: icmp_seq=70 ttl=63 time=1453.866 ms 1408 bytes from x.x.x.x: icmp_seq=80 ttl=63 time=1461.298 ms 1408 bytes from x.x.x.x: icmp_seq=90 ttl=63 time=1935.554 ms 1408 bytes from x.x.x.x: icmp_seq=99 ttl=63 time=1978.546 ms 100 packets transmitted, 100 packets received, 0.0% packet loss round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 9.734/929.728/2047.155/628.466 ms
This only goes up to just under 2 seconds, but if left, it will peak and continue to run at 19 seconds:
1408 bytes from x.x.x.x: icmp_seq=986 ttl=63 time=19084.589 ms
Whilst latency is shown to traffic tagged with DSCP CS6, all other traffic is unaffected, everything else has normal (good) latency.
Understanding the ping options:
- -i 0.02 Setting the interval to 1 ping every 20 miliseconds. If the interval in increased (ie fewer pings per second) then the rate of traffic is low enough not to be caught by TalkTalk's traffic shaping policy
- -z 192 Setting the DSCP bit to 192 (decimal)
- -s 1400 Setting the packet size to 1400 bytes - quite large. If we reduce this, eg to 700 bytes then it takes longer for the latency to rise. Setting it to 600 and it seems the traffic is low enough not to be caught by TalkTalk's traffic shaping policy
- -c 100 Just to 100 pings this time
19 second latency
It's amazing to see 19 second latency - this means that a device on TalkTalk's network is storing packets for this amount of time before passing them on. You would usually expect the packets to be dropped (packet loss) - but packetloss has been very low in our tests.
We were able to perform pcaps on the customer router (a FB2900) and the LNS. and were able to tell which direction the latency applied. The timestamps show the following:
Leaves CPE: 12:03:37.438478 Arrives LNS 12:03:38.495103
Leaves LNS 12:03:38.495106 Arrives CPE 12:03:38.505869
In this example, it takes nearly 1 second for the packet to travel from the CPE to our LNS. The reply (from LNS to CPE) is quick.
What's DSCP and CS6?
DSCP (Differentiated Services Code Point ) is a field in the header of IP packets. usually left empty, but a value can be added which will classify how the packets could be handled by network equipment that support QoS (Quality of Service). eg, important packets can be classified has high priority with the hope that they will be able to jump any queues on network routers and get to the destination as fast as possible.
CS6 is one of these classification, and CS6 is described as 'Network control' and is one of the highest classifications available. It us usually meant for packets that contain important router information - such as BGP etc. Packets that an ISP really don't want to drop, and really want to get to the destination as quick as possible.
RFC791 describes the Network Control flag as having:
- Low Delay
- High Throughput
- High Reliability
It seems that we're seeing two out of three of these being applied in our case!
The Aruba is trying to give real-time traffic the highest priority possible.
Note: The classification below CS6 is described as Telephony - which may have been more appropriate, and in our tests, this traffic is unaffected by TalkTalk's network.
Note: DSCP classification are only guidelines and different manufacturers do seem to use them differently.
Things that have been tried...
...that didn't make a difference
- Disabling the "QoS" setting on the HG612 in bridge mode (still observe high latency)
- Reducing the "speed" of the PPPoE connection from the FB2900 to 85% of sync speed, hoping to avoid buffer-bloat anywhere in the me-to-A&A direction (still observe high latency)
- Using other wireless devices (I can repro the problem with the "live view" of some Nest Cameras and with web-based Stadia on a Chromebook)
- Dumping packets on the WAN interface of the FB2900 (I've confirmed that the FB2900 itself isn't introducing the extra latency)
...that did make a difference
- Connecting the phone, running Stadia, via wired Ethernet (high latency goes away because the problematic QoS marking has gone, DSCP field = 0)
- Setting a special feature on AAISP and the FireBrick - 'IP over LCP' - this sends the IP traffic as control frames. (high latency goes away). This IPoLCP is a niche feature and has been used in the past to help diagnose problems in back-haul networks: eg: https://www.revk.uk/2015/02/congestion-case-study.html
- Changing the DSCP value - only packets marked CS6 (192 to 195) are affected. Using values higher or lower and the latency goes away
Things that were not tried
- Migrating the line to BT back-haul - this would have fixed the problem for the customer, but would not have fixed the problem in the TalkTalk network or the Aruba access point. Being engineers - we like to fix problems!
- Changing the DSCP setting on the Aruba Instant-On Access Points - there is no setting, the DSCP field is being set automatically.
- Getting the FireBrick 2900 to strip the DSCP field - this feature hasn't been added to the FireBrick. ...yet.
With A&A having a lively IRC channel, we asked customers to try our ping test to see how far spread the problem was, we found out that:
- All AAISP TalkTalk VDSL lines tested showed latency
- All AAISP TalkTalk ADSL lines tested showed latency
- No AAISP BT lines tested showed latency
- No AAISP Ethernet lines showed latency
Further, we were also able to test on non-AAISP TalkTalk lines:
Another TalkTalk partner, like us:
400 packets transmitted, 387 packets received, 3.2% packet loss round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 20.704/4031.208/8321.078/2455.798 ms
A TT business line sold by TT direct:
1000 packets transmitted, 968 received, 3% packet loss, time 24439ms rtt min/avg/max/mdev = 16.017/9689.727/19303.816/5771.600 ms, pipe 449
Another TalkTalk partner, like us, actually sees 48 seconds!
round-trip min/avg/max/std-dev = 17.830/33807.255/48113.126/15886.310 ms
So, seems this is a problem within TalkTalks's network, probably affecting all TalkTalk ADSL and VDSL lines in the UK.
Deep Packet Inspection Concerns
TalkTalk provide AAISP the routing of PPP packets from our customer's router (CPE) to our routers (LNS).
It is obvious that our ping tests show that TalkTalk are inspecting the DSCP field in the IP packet within the PPP and then applying that DSCP classification when they pass the PPP frame through their network - applying some sort of queuing rule to it.
One concern that this issue raises is that TalkTalk are inspecting further in to the packet than we'd like or need them to. This may well be by mistake (a miss-configured router within TalkTalk's network), but this is something we're keen to understand and get to the bottom of.
We and others have come up with a few theories as to what could be happening in TalkTalk:
- TalkTalk probably want to process cs6 tagged traffic for their own traffic, and probably can't differentiate between their own and customer traffic on some of the devices within their core network.
There are seemingly two faults here:
- Aruba adding the DSCP field - which is trying to be helpful, it's not configurable, and so in this case it's an unhelpful feature - if it used the DSCP value intended for 'voice' then we'd not have this problem.
- (in our opinion) TalkTalk should not be looking at the DSCP field
The customer has opened a support query with Aruba regarding this. AAISP are taking this up with TalkTalk.
Fault raised with TalkTalk
A&A got in touch with TalkTalk directly by emailing TalkTalk's escalations department and our Service Manager. (There was no point in reporting an individual line fault via the normal channels for broadband fault.)
To be continued....