Friday, May 26, 2006

Net Neutrality vs. Packet Prioritization

Last article I said that I would detail the concepts of net neutrality and packet prioritization. I have discussed these points at length in several previous articles, and this article is what will be the final philosophical discussion of the issue—I hope. Unfortunately the concept of packet prioritization is being associated with denying certain service and application providers’ unfettered access to the Internet or degrading their service. Packet prioritization is a tool that can improve the user experience of real-time services like VoIP or streaming video. The two concepts can co-exist in harmony to provide a superior Internet experience for users and service providers. What follows is a rather matter-of-fact comparison of the two.

There are two principals for companies that make a business of the Internet should always keep in mind:

  1. Internet access has no value without content provided by a variety of sources. This fact is a corollary to Metcalf’s Law.
  2. Users expect a certain quality of service from their application providers regardless of the underlying network infrastructure.

So there is a symbiotic relationship between service and access providers. Neither one can stand on their own despite AT&T’s desire to distribute content and Google’s attempt to build a network.

Packet Prioritization Net Neutrality
Allows time sensitive packets to travel through the Internet first while not restricting or impeding traffic unless a bandwidth limitation exists then traffic is gracefully limited until the condition clears Does not limit or impede any type of traffic
Reduces impairments to voice and video Does not attempt to manage the user experience or quality of service
Provides no noticeable impact on other applications like web browsing and e-mail Some definitions require all packets to be treated equally so browsing and e-mail could arrive before your movie or phone call interrupting the call or movie
Manages bandwidth efficiently to maximize the amount of traffic through the network Believes throwing more bandwidth will solve the problem.  There will always be more traffic than bandwidth
Can improve the quality of some Internet applications May restrict access providers from allowing application providers the opportunity to improve the quality of their services
Does not have to be used by all Internet applications Internet Access providers should not give preference to their content over competing application providers

Net neutrality should be defined not to exclude Internet Access providers from providing packet prioritization. Packetprioritization is a valuable tool that all content providers can use to insure a superior user experience and most efficient use of bandwidth.

Tag: AT&T, Google

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Net Neutrality-Why Would We Rely on Congress?

Every time I hear that another bill is introduced in Congress concerning net neutrality I cringe.  Several of the versions introduced recently would cripple the ability to voice and video services reliably over the Internet.  Language in the bills are often vague and open to interpretation that would make implementing any quality of service mechanism in America illegal.  What is ironic is that this move would hurt the companies that support these bills.

Why are Internet application providers supporting legislation that could reduce the quality of their services?  FUD is why.  Google, Yahoo, and others are afraid that their users will not have access or reduced access if they do not pay additional fees to AT&T, Verizon, and Qwest.  They know the ILEC’s history and distrust them.  The ILECs have not been exactly forthcoming in marketing the benefits to Internet application providers.  Recently all three CEO have publicly clarified their intentions.  Richard Notebart, CEO of Qwest, came out with an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago that was very articulate and full of analogies against net socialism, but it was defensive.  This adversarial relationship between access providers and application providers is being perpetuated in the press by companies like CNET.  The industry’s inability to resolve this situation by itself means that the battle will be taken to Congress where the companies with the most influence will determine the outcome.

Why is there so much resistance to prioritizing some services over others?  Is it so complex that only engineers understand the details?  As with relationships, it is all in how you present the issue.  Name changes and big advertising agencies have not changed the nature of how the ILEC communicate with their customers.  Initial statements by the CEO of AT&T and Verizon that Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Vonage are freeloaders were truly argumentative.  I am sure that the middle managers in these companies did not intend for the message to be delivered in that manner;  call it CEO prerogative.  Eventually the rhetoric was toned down and they clarified their intent, but the damage was done.  Application providers and the press were in a defensive posture.

This whole mess could have been avoided by a smart public relations campaign that communicated two simple messages to application providers and the public:
  1. All applications are not created equal.  Voice and video services need to move through the network before web browsing and e-mail.

  2. All services will operate as they do today without prioritization.  No services will be purposely degraded by implementation of this mechanism, actually all services should operate better.
In reality the ILEC were announcing a new product release so they should have carefully planned its introduction.  Engineers and developers in application providers and the technical press would have been given privy to the details of the implementation.  Given all of the details in a non-confrontational manner, my belief is that they would have supported it and asked when they could sign up for the service.  Now the issue will be resolved in Congress which will give us a non-optimal solution.  

Should packet prioritization be illegal, the United States continue its decline in broadband access and services.  As I have stated in previous articles, we are already behind Asia and some European countries.  This move will facilitate a continued decline.  We can have net neutrality with service prioritization.  They are not mutually exclusive.  Hopefully any legislation passed will account for that fact.

In my next blog article, I will compare principles of net neutrality with packet prioritization.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

What Comes Around Goes Around

John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, stated in his keynote speech at Interop 2006 that that the network will become more intelligent to ease application development.  Simply stated, Cisco will build systems for carriers that contain more intelligence taking control from the network end-points.  This philosophy reminds me of the Bell System days where we built intelligent networks for dumb appliances to hang off the end.  It seems that we have gone a full circle back to the Bell System philosophy.  Everything old is new again.

Cisco was founded on empowering businesses with the ability to design their corporate networks to meet their own business needs.  Their philosophy was that the network was dumb and the end-points intelligent.  AT&T and its Baby Bells were professing the opposite that having intelligence in the network enabled more powerful services at less cost.  Cisco and other companies determined to create a new communications paradigm (you don’t hear that word much any more) based on their success at proving that the old Bell mentality was obsolete.

They were successful at unseating the Bells.  IP won out as the protocol of choice over a fairly transparent optical network.  TDM and ATM are giving way to Ethernet and IP/MPLS over DWDM.  Innovation is coming not from the big iron vendors, but from companies developing equipment and applications based on intelligent network end-points.  VoIP, Skype, BitTorrent, Wi-Fi, DVR, TiVo, camera phones, iPods and countless other devices are products of this pendulum swing.  This millennium we have seen an unprecedented period of innovation enabled by thousands of entrepreneurs that do not require billions of dollars to bring a new application or service to market.

The paradox of success is that the larger a company becomes the less they innovate and the slower they grow.  Cisco is experiencing this paradox.  They have grown to become the 800 pound gorilla.  To continue a reasonable growth trajectory, they have to come up with new communications paradigms that require carriers and enterprises to purchase new hardware, software, and services.  Without major shifts in philosophies, their growth will level out and possibly decrease.  It is a perfectly natural response, and you have to acknowledge Chambers’ drive at trying to appear as the great innovator.

Personally I do not believe that the industry is ready to shift innovation back to large corporate labs like Bell Labs, PARC, IBM, and RCA Labs, and control to their corporate sponsors.  Those companies are relegated to our technology history books. We will witness the same happen to Cisco Systems, Intel, and Microsoft over time.  These are all great companies, but they cycle of innovation will swallow them as well.  The Internet and intelligent network end-points has spawned the Cheap Revolution that empowers any smart individual or small group with entrepreneurial spirit the ability to be the next Skype.  

Tag: Cisco, Chambers, Interop