Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Poor VoIP Service Invalidates Net Neutrality Theory

In principle you know that I support net neutrality but not how it is typically defined by the Internet digerati.  Last week Brix Networks came out with a press release summarizing the results of over one million VoIP test calls made by people that use their TestYourVoIP.com site.  I for one contributed over a hundred tests.  Almost 20% of all tests indicated a call of unacceptable voice quality and that trend is increasing.  This problem will only become acerbated as $120 billion is spent worldwide, according to Infonetics, on VoIP services from 2005 to 2009.

Late packet discards, lost packets, and round-trip latency are the culprits caused by congestion going through switches and routers in the network.  So here we have a true case of degraded service without a tiered Internet.  Oh my God, Molly Wood better call the FCC and her Senator.  The principal of net neutrality is the reason that VoIP services from Vonage, SunRocket, telcos, and cablecos are experiencing low mean opinion scores.  Real-time services like VoIP need to travel through the network in a deterministic fashion quickly.

Net neutrality wags would have you believe that throwing more bandwidth will solve the problem—not true.  Bottlenecks exist all through the network.  Theoretically adding bandwidth would solve the problem if it was done ubiquitously.  Practically it cannot be done ubiquitously and the problem will be solved until that bandwidth is consumed.  Packet prioritization (a.k.a. tiering) solves the problem despite the bandwidth condition and carrier.  This is the only way in which real-time service can be guaranteed to be of sufficient quality.

Let’s say that net neutrality legislation passes.  After MoveOn.org and the ACLU celebrates their victory, companies like Vonage and SunRocket will continue to see the quality of their service decrease while the telecos and cablecos move their service from their Internet access to dedicated bandwidth.  Vonage currently leads the market with a 27% share for residential services according to Infonetics, but the cablecos are catching up.  With net neutrality legislation, the cablecos can move their VoIP service to dedicated bandwidth on their plant and let Vonage rot.  This is the true tiered Internet.  They along with the RBOC will inherit that 27% market share driving these service providers out of business.  So the legislation that the telcos fought so hard to defeat can actually help them in the long run.  Bottom line:  they win either way.  This is the law of unintended consequences.

The only answer is let the Internet be without government intervention.  Innovation will continue and alternatives to the status quo will emerge.  

Disclaimer:  I am not supported by the cable or telco industry in any way although I would not mind some support, but it will not change my opinion on competition or net neutrality.  If you have a project where my talent could be utilized, please feel free to contact me.

Tag: VoIP, Brix Networks, Vonage, SunRocket