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January 2008 | Volume 11/ Number 1
Packet Voice Over Wireless

Internet Bandwidth: Feast or Famine

The nature of Internet traffic is changing; people are downloading and watching more video, the number of consumer broadband users is increasing and the bandwidth of each consumer access link is increasing, thanks to fiber service like Verizon’s FIOS.

These trends compound each other to vastly increase the amount of traffic carried on the Internet. Some fear that the Internet is in danger of clogging up under this load; a year ago a Deloitte report said: “The unrelenting growth in Internet traffic during 2007 may overwhelm some of the Internet’s backbones. . . Similarly, ISPs may struggle to keep pace with demand. . . The impact may be most noticeable in the form of falling quality of service.”

So how can Quality of Service (QoS) be maintained on the Internet? The issues become a lot clearer if we define the terms. In its loosest sense Internet QoS simply means how good a user feels about his or her Internet experience. At the other extreme, the term “end-to-end QoS” is sometimes used to mean end-to-end resource reservation on a session-by-session basis.

Let’s define QoS as a combination of metrics that affect perceived performance quality. These metrics would mainly cover bandwidth, latency, jitter, packet loss and availability. There is no question that poor performance on these metrics yields poor QoS. There are two main views on how to improve these metrics on the Internet. The “stupid network” lobby advocates leaving things pretty much alone, simply increasing network bandwidth to accommodate the increasing traffic.

A report from the Internet2 QoS working group says, “The absence of performance requirements has made it possible to run IP over any link layer, build IP routers with virtually any internal switching design, and run an IP network largely unattended and with very simple peering and settlement agreements. IP is dumb and cheap and, consequently, scalable to very high speeds and global reach.”

The alternative to increasing network capacity is to ration its use, but historically network operators have found it more cost effective to deal with increasing traffic by adding bandwidth than by adding mechanisms to meter it. The Deloitte report seemed to anticipate that this would change in 2007: “Investment, either in laying new cable or lighting existing fiber, may be stifled by continuing falls in wholesale capacity prices.”

The balance of benefit between adding bandwidth and rationing it is a question of economics, but also to an extent a question of philosophy, which is why the debate stirs so much passion. IT

Michael Stanford has been an entrepreneur and strategist in VoIP for over a decade. In his current consulting practice, he specializes in VoIP wireless networks, both WiFi and WiMAX. Internet Telephony Magazine recognized him as one of “The Top 100 Voices of IP Communications” and VoIP News named him one of “The 50 Most Influential People in VoIP”.

» Internet Telephony Magazine Table of Contents

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