TMCnews Featured Article

August 19, 2009

Broadband Stimulus Fuels Net Neutrality Debate: Acme Packet

By Michael Dinan, TMCnet Editor

The availability of federal dollars for broadband Internet proliferation in the United States is fueling talk about so-called “net neutrality,” officials with a Burlington, Mass.-based provider of session border control solutions told TMCnet in an interview.
According to Kevin Mitchell, director of wireless solutions marketing at Acme Packet, Inc., the federally funded broadband stimulus projects have stimulated debate surrounding one divisive part of net neutrality – itself loaded issue – and that's the question of how to handle data-heavy applications that potentially could affect the quality of the network.
“If the Internet and private IP networks are to advance further to be the means for all our communications in the future, there are many billions of dollars that need to be invested to make this feasible,” Mitchell told TMC (News - Alert) CEO Rich Tehrani in an interview, printed in full below.
Mitchell – whose company is exhibiting at this year’s 4GWE Conference, an event collocated with ITEXPO West 2009, to be held Sept. 1 to 3 in Los Angeles – added that he thinks it’s best to avoid dictating to those companies that they cannot "create enhanced tiers – always improving upon but never degrading best effort – to provide their customers or customers of their partners with a better quality of experience.”
Their full exchange follows.
Rich Tehrani (News - Alert): Much of the communications and tech worlds – including companies focused on broadband and healthcare technology, for example – are now availing themselves of money available through government stimulus. How will stimulus packages, including the United States’, affect your company, if at all?
Kevin Mitchell: We are encouraged by the administration’s interest in broadband adoption and a coordinated national technology strategy. With funds being made available to roll out broadband services, this would ultimately help to accelerate adoption of next generation communications technology and stimulate demand for Acme Packet (News - Alert) solutions.
The stimulus package is reigniting the debate of so-called net neutrality. This is a loaded term with multiple aspects, each needing a full examination of their merits. For instance, I think few would disagree that subscribers should be able to access any legal content, Web site or application (there could be caveats here if a service or broadband device is subsidized by a service provider).
However, there is disagreement on the aspect of enhanced transport and treatment for certain bandwidth-intensive data applications or latency-sensitive real-time communication applications; in other words, providing options beyond a best-effort or minimum bandwidth service. If the Internet and private IP networks are to advance further to be the means for all our communications in the future, there are many billions of dollars that need to be invested to make this feasible. I don’t think it’s prudent to then dictate to those companies that they cannot create enhanced tiers—always improving upon but never degrading best effort—to provide their customers or customers of their partners with a better quality of experience.

RT: The WiMAX Forum’s certification process promises releases at the end of this calendar year. Any thoughts on that?
KM: Certified interoperability of service provider access equipment and CPE is essential to the success of any new broadband technology. The proliferation of WiMAX CPE and mobile devices is also important for further adoption of this 4G technology. After these phases, the focus should evolve to applications and services that can be delivered over WiMAX. Service providers cannot survive using WiMAX solely as an alternative to fixed line broadband Internet access.

RT: Though analysts say the ceiling for long-term evolution subscriptions is very high, carriers increasingly appear to be stalling in their LTE rollout plans. Realistically, when are you expecting to see these roll-outs?
KM: It’s safe to expect a very small minority of service providers will have LTE networks in place and commercial service offerings in early 2011. By 2013 we could see multiple operators per country with LTE access offerings—hopefully encompassing voice, video, interactive communications and not just broadband data—but limited to major metro areas of a given country. 3G networks will continue to be a workhorse for service providers given the continued increased in speeds (HSPA+ for instance) and substantial lead in both coverage and form factor breadth.
RT: Apple’s business model for peddling applications for its iPhone (News - Alert) 3G, the virtual App Store, is seeing copycats across the industry, and analysts expect to see more. But is that what’s best for the mobile space? What other models, if any, can we expect to see?
KM: The wireless market is undergoing tremendous changes and will continue as 4G mobile broadband arrives. The competitive landscape is changing as subscribers only have so many dollars to spend and there are more players looking to grab some of that wallet share. Mobile service providers need to continue to deliver innovative services that are derived from their network so as to lessen the threat and revenue churn from device manufacturers, application stores and over the top Web 2.0 companies and social networking sites. That’s where I see the GSMA Rich Communication Suite (News - Alert) (RCS) playing a huge role in helping combat the evolving competition. This new set of inter-service provider interactive communications is delivered via the 3G data channel that service providers have in place today. There are over 500 million 3G subscribers around the globe now and projections for 3G subscribers—even with the arrival of 4G—topping near 2 billion in 2013.
RT: Many of us who cover or work in the mobile space are a rarity among parents who can relate to their children and kids’ obsessions with smartphones and mobile technologies in general? What does the next generation teach us about wireless usage and services?
KM: It’s not about mobile telephony—wireless services are fast moving beyond the initial value proposition of conversational convenience when out of the home or office (while sacrificing some quality and reliability). Today it’s about applications, messaging, location based services, access to the social networking, video, and photos wrapped into one easy to use device with a very fast connection to the network. With femtocells and 4G, the voice quality and reliability can also be greatly enhanced with HD voice codecs and indoor signal improvements. Also, the generation that is coming of age with only a mobile phone will show us that what you and I may think may be a worthless application could be a multi-billion dollar business.
RT: VoIP dominates the way voice is transported on the PSTN, but the end-user rarely connects directly. What can we expect in terms of a parallel for wireless migration to 4G?
KM: VoIP adoption and NGN transformation are taking several forms for mobile service providers. Ahead of 4G RAN deployments, there are SIP-based interactive communications—not voice, but IM, presence, video share and other multimedia forms of interactivity— that can be delivered over today’s 3G networks. This includes the GSMA RCS initiative which can deliver a ROI on IMS and SIP investments well ahead of 4G voice offerings. Secondly, there is fixed mobile convergence (i.e., dual mode handsets) and femtocells that can leverage IMS and SIP based infrastructure. In fact, the CDMA market has adopted SIP at the heart of its femtocell architecture. Thirdly, there is the 4G all IP RAN which is a perfect delivery vehicle for VoIP and IMS-based multimedia communications services. These are not mutually exclusive evolutionary paths and I expect most service providers to embark on at least 2 if not all 3 paths on different time frames.
Related to this wireless access transformation is the IP evolution of both the core and the inter-service provider interconnect. Some of the access applications require this transformation (e.g., RCS requires end to end IP networks to deliver the SIP services across service provider borders to the SIP clients on each subscriber’s phone). However, even with today’s circuit-switched voice, mobile service providers can see substantial cost savings in migrating to an IP core and use SIP trunks to interconnect with other service providers for off-net origination and termination.
RT: Talk to me specifically about what you are showing at the 4G Wireless Evolution conference. What kinds of people or companies should come to your booth?
KM: We are showcasing Acme Packet products and role in those 3 wireless access evolutionary paths: FMC, SIP over 3G and 4G voice and video. In additions, we are at 4GWE to discuss our VoIP interconnect and core session routing solutions. Any fixed or mobile service provider interested in the evolution of wireless access and FMC or how to transform their core networks and interconnects to optimize around SIP should visit our pod in the 4GWE pavilion. Don Troshynski, one of the most experienced SIP architects in the business, will also be at 4GWE to talk about how to deliver voice and interactive communication services over 4G networks on the session “Giving Voice to 4G.”

Acme Packet is a platinum sponsor of the 4GWE Conference — the biggest and most comprehensive IP communications event of the year. 4GWE, collocated with the ITEXPO, will take place in Los Angeles, Sept. 1 to 3, 2009, featuring three valuable days of exhibits, conferences, and networking opportunities you can’t afford to miss. Visit Acme Packet at booth #4G4 in the exhibit hall. Don’t wait. Register now!

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Michael Dinan is a contributing editor for TMCnet, covering news in the IP communications, call center and customer relationship management industries. To read more of Michael's articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan