The Telco Traffic Shaping Smokescreen

from the it's-all-about-the-control dept

A couple weeks ago, we had the story about BellSouth saying it wanted to prioritize traffic and services from certain (paying) partners — or just its own services. This wasn’t a surprise, as the telcos have been leaning towards this for a while. While we had thought that any move in this direction would lead to public outcry and an FCC mandate for network neutrality, we hadn’t counted on Kevin Martin being so willing to roll over for telcos. It’s certainly not as clear any more what will happen. This morning there’s lots of buzz about an article in the Boston Globe saying that telcos are lobbying for just this right, with Slashdot, Boing Boing and Broadband Reports all weighing in. What’s not entirely clear, though, is how serious this is. The Boston Globe article seems like it’s really just a riff on the earlier BellSouth story without much new — just tying together the obvious loose threads.

However, this whole issue has generated an interesting discussion between some of us here at Techdirt in trying to figure out what’s going on. On one side, you can see why a telco would say it should be able to offer quality of service guarantees on services like VoIP and IPTV that it wants to offer. After all, they want to offer the best possible service — and if that means prioritizing the traffic, why not? However, what that ignores is that for most of these services there’s no reason for additional QoS (Quality of Service) — especially as broadband speeds increase. VoIP, for example, really doesn’t take up that much bandwidth, so claiming it needs to be prioritized means one of two things: (1) the telcos own VoIP offerings are dreadfully programmed to hog bandwidth and they’re woefully unprepared to offer more bandwidth or (2) they’re looking to block competitors and charge more to partners. Which one seems more reasonable? With the telcos putting in new fiber networks they should be able to provide the necessary bandwidth needed for most of these applications without having to do any prioritization. If they’re worried, there’s a simple solution that avoids the prioritization issue altogether: increase the bandwidth offered. Complaining that people are overloading the network you’re selling as “unlimited” (even if you don’t mean it) so that you need to prioritize traffic doesn’t really cut it.

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Comments on “The Telco Traffic Shaping Smokescreen”

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Joe says:

QoS and VoIP

Sometimes, it’s easy to have an opinion when you don’t know what you’re talking about.

QoS reserves bandwidth so that traffic doesn’t experience variable latency due to queuing. Upping bandwidth (internally inside a Telco network or externally to the end user) won’t solve problems related to queuing delay in many cases. QoS is a better solution which helps avoid ‘jitter’ in streaming protocols, which can be caused by a burst of low priority (non-latency variance sensitive) traffic.

Without reserving bandwidth for specific types of traffic, any streaming services will ultimately be unreliable.

I was with you on this (network neutrality) issue until you decided to decree from on high that there were only two reasons they might want QoS, and offer a simplistic explanation. Instead of claiming that this “means one of two things,” maybe you could take some time and figure out some fundamental concepts in queuing theory, and routing implementation. Then, your line would be, ‘they need to open up their QoS services to non-partners who want to deliver streaming content.’ That would be along usual your line, and, more informed.

Some Guy says:

Re: QoS and VoIP

I’d agree with everything you said except I would add that QoS can be used for WAY more than just reserving a specific amount of BW for a service. But that’s just nitpicking on my part.

However, my personal option would be that ISPs should be allowed to charge more for higher priority since it takes some pretty serious money (man hours, router resources, etc) to implement QoS well.

I know my opinion will not be a popular one, but if you want premium service, you should be ready to pay premium prices. Just my opinion.

Some Guy says:

Re: Re: Re: QoS and VoIP

I suppose my opinion is one of a utopian society (which doesn’t exist, of course)….

I see VoIP as something the telco should eat the cost on because it only helps them by enabling the use of one circuit for many purposes. However, if a business would like to buy a 48Mb circuit and run data, video, and VoIP over the same link, I have no problems with the provider charging a little extra for some extra QoS setup. Kind of like “We’ll sell you a circuit that is more than capable of doing all these things. If you can handle marking things correctly into our equipment, we guarantee it’ll be handled properly across our network. If you need our help getting QoS setup or want to use our device for your ACLs or rules, that’ll cost you a little extra.” I have no problems with this situation because it doesn’t pentalize groups that know how to deal with QoS within their own network but still leaves a potential revenue stream open for the provider.

As far as access to the priority to content providers… not sure what to think on that one. Again, in a utopian world, there would be 10 proviers in all areas and if one pissed off its customers, they’d simply move to another. But that’s not the case (I should know… I live in Kansas!). What I’d really rather see is more peering and colocation associations with various content providers. More distributed hosting might really help improve the user experience without creating a huge quagmire like QoS for specific content providers.

I don’t have all the answers (obviously), but there’s some really smart folks working on this stuff that have the Internet’s best intersts in mind. I only hope the managers will get out of the way and let them work their magic!

Karl says:

Re: Re: Re:2 QoS and VoIP

Really, this goes much further than prioritizing VoIP traffic. They were going to do this already, and I think everyone understands incumbent VoIP is going to get priority.

But they’re suggesting prioritizing all IP services traffic, including Google searches and IPTV, meaning if you wanted independent content over the pipe you pay for and they didn’t pay master telco, it would be degraded….this is a huge issue, not a smokescreen. It’s the culmination of the net neutrality debate that’s been raging all year.

Ken says:

Re: Re: Re: QoS and VoIP

The issue of transparency is an important one. Cellphone companies sell “walled gardens” of mostly captive IP-based services, not Internet Service. In the past, Internet Service has meant transparent (mostly, anyway) IP transport. Now, ISPs see value-added services like VoIP as potential revenue they understand, and don’t want to lose potential customers. And some of them are trying to redefine their service into a walled garden to “protect” it. That’s the real threat. I’d certainly like to be able to use (or even buy at a reasonable cost) prioritized low-latency service for my Vonage phone over my home Comcast connection. But that does have a real cost for the ISP (I work for one, not one of the ones I mentioned), because VoIP traffic has different characteristics than “normal” data. For example, it’s UDP and doesn’t adapt well to congestion, and it’s usually symmetric, and current systems are designed to handle asymmetric traffic for cost reasons. Both of these are major “last mile” issues, and will only get worse as more such protocols evolve. But if we want the word “Internet” to mean what it has for the last decade, we can’t let that problem cause people to wall off their parts of the network in the interest of protecting their potential revenue.

BJC (profile) says:

Throttling as a way of upgrading your network

The cable internet company here in Toronto is using traffic shaping to throttle ports and services it doesn’t like. Although I have a 6 Megabit connection, my bittorrent downloads (of legitimate Linux Distros) are capped at 20-40kB/s.
Why go to the expense of upgrading your network to support more users and higher bandwidth when you can achieve the same result by quietly messing with your customer’s packets?
Their marketing should really say “6 Megabit/s connect, in short bursts, for http traffic only”.

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