Following the broadband money

Posts Tagged ‘net neutrality

Felix Baumgarten and the ghost in the machine

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When Felix peaked...

When Felix peaked…

Every so often it’s nice to have a break from BT network failures, from cyberthreats and handwringing over state aid, and think instead of Gee Whiz! moments like Felix Baumgarten’s 39km, 10 minute plummet to break the sound barrier, now immortalised in Lego, on 14 October.

As Wikipedia will tell you (please support it with a £5 donation), it was also the 65th anniversary of Chuck (The Right Stuff) Yeager’s rocket-powered breaking of the sound barrier.

The fact that Felix flew/fell from Roswell, New Mexico, will of course delight space travel conspiracy theorists.

According to some sources, Felix’s jump was the most watched online event in history. Ripe NCC, the guys who help manage the internet in Europe, and who may be out of a job of the ITU and telco trade association ETNO have their way at the WCIT talks in Dubai this week, measured internet traffic at a number of popular internet peering points (IXPs) during Felix’s rise and fall from the Red Bull Stratos balloon.

Felix’s ascent started at around 15.30 UTC; he leaped into history at 18.07, and landed safely 10 minutes later, having averaged 234kmh, peaking at 1,343kmh.

As you would expect, net traffic at most IXPs showed a noticeable surge during the flight, but the Ripe NCC chaps explain that what they measured was likely a fraction of the actual traffic generated by the event.

This is because of content delivery networks (CDNs). These are essentially big server farms that live at the edge of telcos’ core networks and cache copies of popular content. YouTube and Akamai are examples of CDNs. Because CDNs live at the edge of core networks, anyone connected to the same local network as the CDN gets very fast delivery of their content, be it a Netflix movie, a Microsoft update, or Felix’s Fall. They don’t have to wait for the content to go through an IXP.

Instead of having a single server in Roswell feeding all seven million folk watching Felix at once, it fed a few CDNs around the world, which Ripe NCC picked up. The local CDNs then fed local users, thus minimising traffic across the internet and giving users a better watching experience, especially if you are on rotten ol’ copper.

Even though most users are unaware of them, CDNs sit between the telco and the end users, which is why CDNs don’t really shout about it. There’s a lot of talk now (not unrelated to ETNO’s proposals) about whether telcos should simply carry CDN traffic or pair up with CDN operators, or get into the business themselves.

Given that BT has spent around £1bn to buy the rights to show some sports matches online, what it needs to do should be obvious. But let’s see what actually happens.


Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2012/12/05 at 00:42

How to avoid the coming broadband catastrophe

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Broadband ought to be profitable to network operators, but a flawed understanding of the operational realities of the change from circuit switching to statistical multiplexing of packets has led to inappropriate business models and disastrous incentives for management.

Unfortunately, acknowledging the truth and acting on it involves huge risk for the first operator to break ranks. This is because it calls on users to pay proportionately for the quality of experience they want rather than passively accept paying for an undifferentiated pipe that may or may not be fit for service.

The risk is that customers will leave for the deluded or at least mistaken promises of its competitors, says Martin Geddes, founder of Martin Geddes Consulting and former strategy director of BT’s Innovate and Design department.

(The password is PolyService for this 8.20min video interview with Geddes

MartinGeddesFutureofBroadband from Ian Grant on Vimeo.


It took 14 hours to upload.  Network fit for purpose? I don’t think so. )

Geddes and colleagues Neil Davies and Peter Thompson of Predictable Network Solutions have spent a year refining the empirical evidence of network behaviour into a radical new description of broadband economics. They unveiled it yesterday to a select but critical group that included sceptical collaborator Dean Bubley, whose counter views have helped to refine the model, Geddes says.

Br0kenTeleph0n3 was allowed to attend under Chatham House rules, which means we can report but not identify who said what. But we can say delegates included representatives from incumbent telcos, altnets, mobile network operators, service providers, regulators, investment companies and trade associations.

The basic thesis is that users should be able to decide and pay for the quality of experience they require. The corollary is that operators should enable them to split the service so that applications or transactions that require higher bandwidth receive it for the duration, and that those with less time-critical needs are shifted to times when the network is not as busy.

This would lower peak traffic demand and raise average network utilisation. This saves operators’ capex and optimises sustainable revenues by tying them directly to the cost of providing the requested service.

This linking of supply with demand means that operators no longer have to overprovision network capacity and that they get a fair price for the quality of service they deliver.

However, it requires them to change their mindset from selling a “monoservice” (packets as circuits) to providing a “polyservice” (different user experiences), and to rebuild their billing systems.

One needs to think of networks as markets, or in Geddes’ term, trading platforms, where users can trade packet deliveries based on time. For example, a movie download would require a lot of bandwidth for the first three minutes to get enough to the user to enable them to start watching, but the next 87 minutes could be delivered at a cheaper rate that matched the viewing behaviour on a just in time basis. Similarly, a user could order a movie for the following week, which would then be downloaded in a quiet period, at marginal cost, and stored locally until needed. A streamed video or voice call, which requires a constant connection, would be charged for accordingly.

Geddes argues that all data flows are basically rivals to each other for bandwidth. Everyone else’s data “pollutes” your flow, as Geddes puts it.

But because not all applications require the same quality of service (especially time), they can be traded, with less time-critical flows being traded for more valuable ones, and priced accordingly.

This overcomes the problem of the Over the Top operators that some telcos claim are currently getting a free ride on the networks. “It would pay BT to pay Akamai to mark those packets that could be delivered later because of the capex saving it would enjoy,” said one delegate.

A feature of network behaviour is that the problems arise in the access network ie, the bit between the user and the local exchange. Traffic delays in a network are “composable”, which means adding more follows well-known laws when in very large volumes, such as in the core network.

But even a few low bit rate flows in access networks can cause “bad coincidence” or demand spikes that lead to delays and loss of packets largely because of the way the internet protocol manages data flows. Network operators presently work around this by reserving some bandwidth, say the first 100kHz for VoIP or IPTV traffic. This perversely destroys the benefits of statistical multiplexing by creating permanent virtual circuits, which are totally wasted if not used.

This is why “throwing bandwidth” at the problem is an expensive, ineffective solution, although very good for equipment vendors. It is also why investors have largely lost faith with telcos’ promises of returns on investment, especially for large transformational projects such as next generation broadband.

Geddes argues for telcos to adopt a new approach to network planning and design called AREA (for [user] Aspiration, [network] Requirement, Execution and Assurance).

Applying these principles to an incumbent’s network upgrade allowed the telco to delay its spend by seven to 13 months while improving the users’ quality of experience, Davies says. This was because between 40% and 60% of the traffic was peer to peer, mostly to back up data. Time shifting reduced this to 10%.

There was a consensus that operators’ engineers were either explicitly or implicitly aware that the traditional business model, which regards services as “pipes”, is increasingly at odds with reality. The introduction of new devices such as an iPhone has caused major problems, and these are likely to get worse, just as users are coming to expect a broadband connection as a human right.

But some are taking action. Many people died needlessly because their medical records were destroyed in the devastating Japanese tsunami. In the aftermath, the government, telcos and users decided that the replacement network had to be secure, resilient and built around human needs rather than telco business models. This is leading to them adopting some of the principles set out above.

Present western telco executives are ignoring the problems, hoping nothing on a tsunami scale happens before their pensions and share options vest. Regulators are more interested in perpetuating themselves than in setting up conditions where regulation can be less intrusive. And politicians are easily swayed because of their short term focus and lack of technical expertise.

A perfect storm is building.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2012/11/13 at 07:01

Demolition job on telcos’ argument against net neutrality

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It would be wrong to let internet service providers charge content providers like Google, Netflix and iTunes for delivering content to customers, says Communications Chamber partner Rob Kenny.

In a point by point critique of a telco-commissioned AT Kearney paper, Kenny demolishes arguments telcos are using to persuade regulators and politicians to let them to charge content providers for delivery.

Source: R. Kenny - 10% of users cause 55% of net traffic.

In doing so, he strengthens the argument for other countries to follow the Dutch and pass laws that guarantee net neutrality, in other words, that telcos should not discriminate between different types of traffic, and continue to use their “best efforts” to get the bits to their destination as fast as possible.

Kenny’s most telling line is a quotation from Gary Bachula of Internet2, a US non-profit consortium of government and academic network researchers intent on building the next generation internet.

Bachula told the US Senate in 2006, that, based on seven years’ experience of running advanced broadband networks for five million users, “… we seriously explored various ‘quality of service’ schemes, including having our engineers convene a quality of service working group. As it developed, though, all of our research and practical experience supported the conclusion that it was far more cost-effective to simply provide more bandwidth.”

In addition, Kenny points out that the top 10% of internet users are responsible for 55% of the traffic. Why charge content providers when users generate the traffic, he says.

Kenny also shows that peer to peer traffic represents more than 30% of internet traffic. Charging content providers without addressing file-sharing between users would be “incomplete”, he says.

Besides, large content providers use massive server farms close to users to improve customer experience. This lowers the impact on the telcos’ core network, reducing their claim that content providers are free-riding and should therefore be liable for charges.

Kenny’s critique supports evidence gathered by German consulting firm WiK Consult that showed the incumbent telcos will only invest in new infrastructure (eg fibre networks) where threatened with competition, mostly from cable TV operators.

Kenny shows that the support the AT Kerney report offers telcos is deeply flawed, and thinly disguises their determination to stave off competition, keep their monopoly over access to end users, keep prices high and the market inefficient.

Unless governments and regulators ignore these special pleadings, incumbent telcos are unlikely to play a meaningful role in achieving the ambitions set out in Europe’s Digital Agenda and, closer to home, Digital Britain (revised).


Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2011/09/19 at 11:15

Give us all your money, telcos to tell Kroes

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Incumbent telcos are expected to try to extend their regulatory holiday on installing optical fibre networks when they report back to European Commission VP and Digital Agenda champion Neelie Kroes tomorrow.

Earlier in the year Kroes invited telco CEOs to tell her how to kick-start investment in fibre networks so that all Europeans would have access to 30Mbps broadband with 50% using 100Mbps by 2020.

Tomorrow CEOs from Deutsche Telekom (for telcos), Alcatel Lucent (for equipmentuppliers) and Vivendi (for content providers) are expected to deliver a statement of 11 “principles” that address industry structure, approaches to “net neutrality” and regulation of “next generation” fibre networks.

The amount required is estimated at between €200bn and €300bn over the next 10 years. Given the sovereign debt crisis engulfing southern Europe, it is likely that money from governments is likely to be in short supply.

At the recent Ecta (European Competitive Telecoms Association) conference on triggering fibre investment, representatives from the funding community were plainly willing to lend, even to buy existing copper networks. They preferred to see their risk reduced by having fewer fibre network operators, and when Br0kenTeleph0n3 pushed, they admitted they would prefer to invest in a monopoly network operator.

The conference also showed that incumbent operators do not invest in fibre until forced to do so by competitive offers. At present the competitive threat came almost exclusively from cable network operators with their mix of fibre backbones and co-axial local loops, said Karl-Heinz Neumann, one of the authors on an exhaustive analysis of wholesale access pricing of copper and fibre.

Depending on whether new entrants have access to the incumbent’s passive infrastructure such as ducts and poles (or other utility suppliers such as energy), fibre networks were between 20% and 35% more expensive to install than copper, Neumann told Br0kenTeleph0ne.

However, fibre delivers vastly more raw speed than copper. BT’s Sean Williams told the conference copper will achieve 100Mbps within five years. besides which it was quicker to use copper to deliver incrementally higher speeds.

But a fibre to the home (FTTH) service could start from 100Mbps, speed upgrades are vastly cheaper and quicker to implement than with copper, and general running costs are said to be lower with fibre than with copper.

Ecta, which represents more than 100 “entrant” telcos, has long argued for there to be a single fibre network in each country, or ideally, across Europe, and for each operator to have “open access” to the physical network.

Speaking ahead of the meeting with Kroes, Ecta chairman, Tom Ruhan said, the “de facto” regulatory holiday for fibre networks in many countries had not led incumbents to invest more. “It is time to recognise that in most cases, including in cities, the market can only support one fibre network alongside any cable networks that already exist,” he said.

Ruhan called for an end to the regulatory holidays for fear that Europe would slip behind competitor economies. “Regardless of whether the fibre is owned by one operator or several ‘co-investors’ the network needs to be open and the regulatory rules must be clear,” he said.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2011/07/12 at 16:16

Kroes wants more spectrum for fast mobile broadband

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More harmonised spectrum for high speed mobile broadband is what Europe’s Digital Agenda boss Neelie Kroes will ask from the EU’s council of telecoms ministers meeting in Brussels tomorrow.

Kroes will will ask the European Parliament to adopt legislation that make radio spectrum available for wireless broadband by 2013.

According to the commission, businesses that reply on access to spectrum supports 3.5 million jobs, generates around €130bn a year in tax and contributes €140bn directly to European GDP.

She will also present the net neutrality rules that came into effect on 25 May, and discuss how to achieve the Digital Agenda goals of 30Mbps  basic broadband access for all by 2013, with 50% having access to 100Mbps by 2020.

The council is expected to agree to the commission’s proposal to extend the current mandate of the European Network and Information Security Agency (Enisa) by 18 months. But there are calls for the Crete-based think-tank to be updated and upgraded.

Kroes will urge ministers to improve and strengthen their national cybersecurity defences, and update them on developments on roaming services in the EU.

Ofcom sets out new powers to fine, force market changes

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Communications providers (CPs) could face fines up to £2m for breaching new information gathering powers that Ofcom will gain when the European Electronic Communitions Framework is transposed into British law on 25 May.

The communications regulator has set out wide-ranging changes intended to transform the UK communications market. These include:

  • Ofcom to have power to force CPs to share network infrastructure at set prices
  • Ofcom to set standards for quality of service (QoS) for broadband, transparency on network traffic management practices and access discrimination to boost net neutrality
  • CPs to report network outages to Ofcom
  • Increased powers to fine CPs for breaches of regulatory obligations
  • Ofcom to gather information related to “evaluating future network or service developments that could have an impact on wholesale services made available to competitors”.
  • Ofcom to allow spectrum leasing and gather transmitter location information to ensure efficient use of spectrum.

Ofcom said it was working to have discussion papers on these and other issues before the 25 May deadline.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2011/05/16 at 09:53