Keeping Skype @Bay

Atlanta-based Verso Technologies last week announced the introduction of a carrier grade tool or ‘application filter’ designed to let cable operators and other IP service providers “selectively disable undesirable network traffic and improve service levels on their networks,” according to a press release. The product is aimed specifically at peer-to-peer (p2p) applications, such as VoIP, instant messaging, conferencing, and other types of streaming media.

Skype is the poster child for such ‘undesirable’ traffic, from the point of view of facilities based network operators, as the VoIP technology provider and its peers bring no network capacity to the party; they essentially piggyback on others’ pipes.

How big is this problem?

Monty Bannerman, president and CEO of Verso, pointed out to that NANOG [the North American Network Operators’ Group] has probes all over the primary backbones. “They’ve been able to measure the rise in peer-to-peer traffic,” Bannerman said. “The last stats I saw—and that was at least a year ago—at that point over 30 percent of the backbone was p2p traffic—and rapidly growing.” This is traffic that brings in not a penny for the carriers whose networks the p2p traffic traverses.

“It’s one thing if you’re just having a rise in certain kind of traffic and its driving more capacity and people are buying bigger pipes from you as a carrier. But if that same traffic is robbing your paid subscriber base, it’s like eating poison every day,” Bannerman said.
“There are really two camps here.” Bannerman continued. “There’s the p2p camp that says Skype’s an incredible new thing that everyone loves, but if you’re watching your business model being eroded every day, you’re in the other camp.”

Bannerman pointed out that Verso has a deep experience in content filtering, through its NetSpective product line. ” We’ve been looking at optimizing networks via content filtering for a long time. As a direct result of that core expertise, we’ve identified how you can identify p2p traffic on a network and have determined methods whereby you can selectively block it. Say, I just don’t want to allow Napster—because of the potential liability—or Skype, because they’re raiding my paid subscriber base. Or Kazaa or any other p2p. We have multiple means whereby we can both identify different kinds of traffic and then selectively allow or deny the traffic on the network.”

As a matter of fact, in addition to the carrier grade filtering, the same technology is being included in NetSpective version 2.0, announced Tuesday at the VON conference in Boston.

So, does a network operator have the right to block certain traffic?

It all depends where that network is. Bannerman alluded to the fact that Verso’s customer base is large and global and that there are different regulatory constraints in different countries. “Some don’t allow p2p VoiP at all. In others, you’re not allowed to block VoIP,” Bannerman commented. “No matter where you go, you’re going to almost have two camps: those that like this [filtering capability]—made up of people that have a revenue-based business model and don’t want to see free services erode their base—and those that are strictly non-facilities peer-to-peer based where they don’t have any infrastructure that they purchased, and want to gain access to someone else’s facilities.”

Although the FCC has at least once fined a broadband provider for blocking VoIP traffic, the long-term picture around this issue in the United States is far from clear. Alluding to this ambiguous climate, Bannerman said, “I believe that the answer to this is going to have to be regulatory.”

As implemented today, Verso’s carrier-grade application filtering involves selective blocking. “I can discriminate between forms of p2p, leave some on, block others,” Bannerman said. “Today it’s on/off, but selectively.” He went on to describe Verso’s “deep skill set” in QoS technology, derived in part from its NetPerformer product line that provides compression and QoS plus routing for VoIP over satellite. “Tomorrow, there’s no reason I can’t extend that by assigning a QoS by type of p2p traffic. So I could actually degrade certain types of traffic—or prioritize others.”

Verso’s carrier grade application filter runs on Intel-based NEBS-compliant hardware. “Now that the application has successfully completed its preproduction trials, we are working with tier-one carriers to conduct the first production field trail,” said Bannerman. “We believe that the application has tremendous market opportunity because it addresses an increasingly critical carrier requirement as p2p traffic continues to grow worldwide.”

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