Advanced Television

Speed, a Neutral issue?

May 14, 2014

The need for speed is not always associated with high intelligence; think young men (or, even worse, middle aged men pretending to be young) on motorbikes. On the other hand in motor racing those that can afford the best technology can usually go quickest.

The same can be said for service providers. And, as in racing, the need for more speed is never finite. Just as you think you have built enough capacity to outstrip foreseeable demand a bunch of new services come along that use up all that new space and speed and want more, more, more.

There are only two answers; more capacity, or new methods of putting more data through the same capacity. With the expediential growth of content demand, the answer for all operators is generally both.

As our main feature in this issue explains there is no shortage of solutions on offer, and some optimism that the slow move towards standards is finally speeding up. Everyone agrees that with more services to more devices being the permanent subtext of the business, more intelligent networks, able to further differentiate, divide and compress more content data, are needed.  The disagreement tends to centre on where the intelligence should reside; the headend, the edge, the gateway, the STB, the device, the cloud?

Wherever the capacity and the intelligent technology to create it lives, a bigger controversy will continue over who should pay for it. This is all foreshadowed in the looming debate (or should that read ‘showdown’) over Net Neutrality.

Rather as with content data, the real world answer seems to be to breakdown net neutrality into parts and re-interpret it. Except, of course, there are many different interpretations.

Fixed network providers want major content services such as Netflix to pay them to use their networks. On the face of it not unreasonable given the massive percentage of traffic they account for. Content providers say their subscribers already pay for the content and pay the network for ISP services. And that fundamentally the Internet must remain free to providers so ‘a thousand flowers can bloom’ and new services can be developed. Regulators, until now, have agreed with the content guys.

But it is hard for global multibillion dollar corporations such as Netflix and Amazon to play the entrepreneur innovator suppressed by networks, particularly when they are soaking up capacity to the detriment of other users and service providers. So Netflix agreed to pay Comcast – and others – for peering; a physical interconnection of networks and the exchange of routing information to help the specified data be reconciled and delivered more easily, more quickly and just better, for the end user. The network provider picks up a fee and the content provider gets ‘guaranteed’ QoE to their customer.

Netflix signed for the peering but then complained loudly that it was forced into it and it was still in favour of the ‘one true’ neutrality. Regulators seem to agree and still, apparently, salute the banner of neutrality and ‘freedom’. But should that include the freedom to use most of the Internet’s capacity as part of your own business model?

Regulators in the US and Europe are soon to reveal their precise definitions. Given the un-resolvable controversy who bets that their definition of precise will be anything but?

Categories: Articles, Blogs, Broadband, Cable, ISP, Nick Snow, Policy, Regulation, Telco