Net neutrality and VoIP telephony – thorny issues the industry needs to negotiate
Trefor.net welcomes “VoIP Week” contributor Rob Pickering, CEO of ipcortex.
Most folks who work in the VoIP industry have at some point been subject to a casual horror story from a new acquaintance about evil VoIP and how they tried it once and that it nearly brought their business to its knees. My heart sinks whenever I realise that this is the direction in which the conversation is going, at which point I usually find myself wishing I’d said that I did something less controversial for a living…like writing computer networking software! I listen, though, nodding politely, already forming a conclusion — after all, it would be unlikely that the problems experienced were due to a fault in their equipment or termination provider, both of which are probably perfectly reliable. No, a lack of a suitable quality of service (QoS) between their premises and termination provider is almost always the culprit in such circumstances.
The UK service provider industry has developed lots of solutions to the QoS problem, and things are far better now than they were just five or ten years ago when the market was in its infancy. The quality and availability of last mile circuits, particularly in metropolitan areas, has massively improved with successive advancements such as LLU, FTTC, FTTP, and cost-effective, high bandwidth Ethernet IAD type circuits. There has also been a trend towards integrated providers delivering the whole service — access circuit, Internet and telephony — as a single package. Behind the scenes, this may or may not translate technically into a full end-to-end in-house QoS-managed solution, depending on the provider and sometimes the geography of the customer. It does, however, assign commercial responsibility for delivering a fit-for-purpose solution to a single party, and this can only produce a better quality outcome for the customer.
Such an approach is certainly not universal. The US market has developed differently, for instance, and most VoIP termination providers don’t get deeply involved in provision of access circuits, instead opting to rely on decent low loss, low jitter transit or peering arrangements, and their customers’ own commodity access circuits. Often they will do a bit of automated “connection testing” as part of their signup process, however in general customers on unsuitable circuits tend to weed themselves out. This does produce some benefits for customers, including more transparency with regard to costs, as well as a bit less lock-in as there is no commercial linkage between access and over-the-top (OTT) voice service. Today, in fact, several of those US suppliers are entering the UK market with this same business model.
Which brings us on to Net Neutrality. Whenever this subject comes up, we tend to think about its obvious effects on consumer entertainment services. The future development of the telephony industry is, however, intimately linked with this issue. Whilst the raw, per-consumer bandwidth requirements of a VoD service like Netflix is greater, the network characteristics required to deliver a reliable telephony conversation of at least ISDN quality are in some ways more onerous. Though buffering can always be used to counter horrible jitter on the underlying path for a video stream, and content caches are already used to reduce transit requirements, neither of these methods can be used to reduce the pain on a real-time voice conversation. If telephony providers can no longer get good, zero-packet loss, low jitter transit, or peering with many leading access providers, then an entire business model may very well be frozen out.
How do you think the industry will develop? Vertically integrated one-stop shops for network access and telephony, or universal OTT providers? I’d love to know your thoughts.
VoIP Week Posts:
- Ten Years of VoIP – Happy Birthday!
- #voipweek on trefor.net Brings Diverse Set of Posts
- The Conception and Birth of a New IP Handset
- UC Disappearing Like VoIP
- Microsoft Lync, Embrace or Ignore?
- Voice Fraud – You Need to Act!
- VoIP and Emergency Services – Location, Location, Location…
- Vastly Objectionable Ignominious Phrase
- A VoIP Spring
- Voice Technology Makes Conference Calls Sound Amazingly Clear and Life-like