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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  1. identicon
    Joe, 13 Dec 2005 @ 1:05pm

    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.

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