May 29, 2007

The Bandwidth Shell Game

Whilst getting my slashdot groove on yesterday, I encountered this: Will ISPs Spoil Online Video?

The main thrust of the article is that no ISP can actually deliver the "promised" sustained bandwidth for all users on its network (or even a large percentage of its users) at any one time.

The article is basically true, in the facts, and I've touched on the topic of video bandwidth and the 'net in the past, but its (somewhat) unfair to narrow this to an ISP issue. (I say "somewhat" considering my previous gig was at an ISP, and my current employer offers Broadband ISP services, so perhaps I'm not the most objective here...)

For example, every website plans against peak load, not total possible usage - same problem: you can't access promised services (paid or free) as advertised/committed. And, more on point, Google's ever increasing g-mail mailbox size is also bogus in the same sense -they can offer that much storage because not everyone uses 2+GB for mail (very few do, in fact).

Really, all businesses do capacity planning (online AND offline) to determine pricing (and therefore marketing claims), and bandwidth is no different in this regard.

I can't even make a call for the first 30 minutes after American Idol ends - wireless capacity planning never forsaw the Seacrest effect.
And although I went to the Buffalo Wing Factory in Va ("Home of the Flatliner") for some spicy buffalo wings one night after a goodbye party for a departing colleague, they were, in fact, out of Flatliners. Grrrr....

What makes it thorny for most connected users is that the usage profile of the service, of the Internet, continues to evolve very rapidly, making terms of service seem quickly antiquated. What people should bear in mind though, is that the terms of service are simply a reflection of the economic and topological constraints of the network itself - usually in place to guarantee some core QoS (Quality of Service) for as many customers as possible.

Nobody's trying to trick anybody, or game the system - but you can't plan for what you don't know, and the increasing interconnectedness of things make prediction a dicey thing. That is to say, the dumber the network, the less visibility available.

Consider, for example, P2P applications are good (i.e. cost) for the endpoints (origin and destination), but usually MORE traffic (i.e. cost) for the network itself.

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