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Will Net Neutrality kill Web 2.0?

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Networks need to get smarter, says PacketExchange's Kieron O'Brien, in a sharp counterpoint to the "Net Neutrality" hysteria.

PacketExchange bypasses the congestion of the internet by offering its customers a private end-to-end network. Some of its customers, such as Nokia, Microsoft, and cable ISP Telewest (now owned by Virgin) aren't so surprising. But last week it added social networking site Bebo to its client list.

But look at what Bebo does, O'Brien told us. You'll see why it wanted to bypass the net too.

For most internet users at home uploads are far from optimal - and Bebo users like to upload stuff, like photos and clips. They're very model "Web 2.0 citizens", if you like.

Which is where it runs into today's network - and trouble.

"The Plain Old Internet wasn't designed for this level of complexity. It's great for downloads - and there are caching engines all over the place to speed up downloads. But telcos don't understand the word upload.

"The net is getting in the way. Packets are passed around this irrelevant network - the internet gets in the way of uploads. It's slow, and the user gets bored.

"We take the middle man out of the internet - connect from one edge of the network to the other edge."

VoIP users, game players, and video downloaders all have different needs, but one thing in common, O'Brien says: "Volume isn't a problem - delay is a problem."

(VoIP in particular doesn't consume a lot of bandwidth, but it's very sensitive to delay).

PacketExchange began life in 2001. It currently buys paths "from everybody as long as they are diverse from each other", he says. For example, PacketWeb has seven paths across the Atlantic.

"Actually, you know where the end points are, so you can have an intelligent route map and pass traffic along on a best-routing policy rather than a 'Don't Care, Send-and-Pray' policy. 'Send-and-pray' is just another form of delay."

Software as a Service (SaaS) is another offering that benefits from routing round the web.

Badly written legislation that tries to implement the Apple Pie ideal of "Net Neutrality" threatens such advances, however. Last year's amendments to the Telecomm bill had the unintended consequence of outlawing for-fee QoS. A "neutral" net ensures there's one slow lane for everyone; that's something the net's most distinguished engineers - including Robert Kahn - think is insane.

But O'Brien pours scorn on the operators too, for being less than frank with customers.

"Go and look where they've advertised 10Mbit/s or 20Mbit/s to the home, and you'll see the economic model is virtually impossible. That's where you see a 50:1 or 20:1 contention policy - which means the capacity is 50x over-subscribed."

Gamers and video fans deserve better, he says.

"That means bandwidth-hungry users are getting a terrible experience. So then we see Deep Packet Inspection technology going into the networks to stop people using bandwidth-hungry applications."

He's not unduly worried right now, he told us, but notes that the neutralists have their own agendas.

"Some of the people in the Net Neutrality argument have said they are going to be telecoms providers - like Google."

One thing's for certain - if the internet is to evolve, and evolve in a positive way, it doesn't need handicaps. ®

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