Monday, October 20, 2014

[Guest Post]: Net Neutrality and the Role of NFV

By Matt Halligan*, CTO and VP of Engineering. Openwave Mobility

The state of Net Neutrality and the open Internet have been debated at length. While the pro and anti neutrality camps fight it out - “Free Internet” vs. “Fast-Lanes” - many have overlooked what impact Net Neutrality will ultimately have on online services and the end-user experience. With a commercial, multi-speed internet, NFV could be the path to innovation and monetization opportunities

Net Neutrality: The battle lines are drawn

In one corner we have content providers like Netflix and Google championing the “Free Internet” and “Freedom of Speech”, positioning Net Neutrality as the fairest way to rule the Internet. In the opposite corner we have the Internet Service Providers (ISPs), who want to reap back revenues from the rising costs of delivering fast broadband. But amidst the hype and scare mongering, an important message has been lost. Net neutrality does not exist – and hasn’t for quite some time. The fact is conglomerates like Google, Facebook and Netflix already benefit from Fast Lanes in the form of dedicated servers provided to them by ISPs. The vast amount of data created on the Internet today means that how most people perceive it to work is no longer the case. It’s not “Content > Internet Backbone > ISP > User” it’s far more complex, and far less neutral than people like to make out.

Restoring the balance

When the Internet was still relatively young, in order to promote growth and innovation, telecoms operators helped subsidize the Internet sector. It was free, open and innovative. Today the Internet is highly profitable, but extremely costly to run. While some large Internet-based businesses have benefitted from Net Neutrality – US and European mobile operators have cut back on investing in high-speed broadband networks. Under current Net Neutrality rules it just didn’t make sense financially. The result, both regions have lagged behind in the world broadband speeds stakes.

As Internet traffic grows exponentially, operators and ISPs have an uphill battle to provide users with a reliable service, and as a result the network congests and data speeds plummet. With these heavily burdened networks, perhaps the only way to restore fairness and improve user experience is to abandon the concept of Net Neutrality - completely.

The Role of NFV

The fact is Net Neutrality did exist but quite some time ago. Few were on the Internet and Fast Lanes were not really needed. With today’s networks, economy and technological growth, Net Neutrality is just not feasible. Providers cannot be expected to carry the burden of providing high-speed infrastructure alone, with little financial return. Therefore the fairest and smartest option is for data-intense services to contribute to the costs of supplying their content to users.

Which is why Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) can play a vital role in provisioning bandwidth.

Without the burden of Net Neutrality service providers are free to offer extra bandwidth or Fast Lanes as services. NFV can be utilized to granularly separate the network and prioritize services. NFV without Net Neutrality opens up a huge range of revenue generating opportunities while preserving the quality of experience that each user is prepared to pay for. For example, if a mobile carrier is delivering HD video content through NFV, the service to provide faster delivery and extra bandwidth can be switched on and off rapidly. Arguably, NFV technology would become the driver for investment in these services.

The Final Debate

As the argument for Net Neutrality gets more heated, it is vital to keep the end-user experience at the center of the debate. While it has been positioned by the likes of Google and Facebook to be in the user’s benefit for neutrality to remain, there is a far stronger case for it to be dropped – especially since these companies already benefit from a non neutral internet. As subscribers and users expect more data to be delivered faster it’s only fair that the providers of the content take an amount of financial responsibility in its provision. Whether Net Neutrality remains or not, one thing is certain – the dynamics of mobile broadband will need to change in order to prevent innovation from stagnating.

*Matt Halligan has over 17 years of experience in the telecommunications industry and has held a range of technical and management roles within Research & Development. Prior to his role of Vice-President of Engineering at Openwave Mobility, Matt was Vice-President for Engineering within Openwave Systems, responsible for all R&D functions for the Mobile business, management of 180 engineers across the globe and site management of the Belfast facility. Before joining Openwave Systems in 2002, Matt spent 7 years at Nortel and was the Chief Software Architect for Nortel’s NITEC R&D facility, with responsibility for SDH optical networks software solutions. Matt graduated with first class BEng honors degree.

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