Wireless neutrality: Not if we can prevent it

Throttling on a granular scale

Partisan network enabler Camiant is to bring "real-time policy control" to a European mobile network, throttling data by application, time and location, not to mention tariff.

The Boston-based outfit has signed a deal to bring "policy control" to an Eastern European network operator it'll only describe as a "challenger, not an incumbent", in a move the company sees as an inevitable evolution of the mobile broadband business.

Mobile network operators have long been looking at the fixed-line ISPs with a feeling of dread, like a teenager watching his balding dad dance and getting a sudden flash of his own future. Mobile operators have relied on selling voice minutes, but as Carphone Warehouse recently admitted, the margins on tenner-a-month broadband are very small, and those could quickly turn into losses if punters start using the bandwidth available to them.

Some operators impose some form of fair use limit. Others place a cap beyond which they'll start charging - such as the £15-a-GB Vodafone will be enforcing from November 1st.

But basic caps are bad publicity: all it takes is one unnamed punter to run up a huge bill and the papers are reporting on the evils of high data rates, even if the details never emerge (we're still chasing Vodafone on that).

So operators are looking for more flexible ways of controlling data flows, something that Camiant is already enabling for a couple of mobile operators in the USA and one in Canada, though most of its work is with cable companies at the moment. Right now the technology is IP-based - data flow is controlled at the GGSN, but the company is working to integrate control at the radio layer too.

Initial deployments are about prioritising applications, such as VoIP, without mentioning the inevitable de-prioritising of everything else. Then, according to VP of Business Development at Camiant, Randy Fuller, will come tariff-based priorities: "You want a reliable connection for the service, that's an extra fiver", closely followed by time and location-based throttling.

Ultimately a business tariff might guarantee bandwidth between, say, nine and five, with slower connections outside those hours unless the customer is still within a mile of the office - or has the super-business tariff.

The network operators will tread slowly on this, but they are going to have to do something to avoid falling into the trap of providing flat-rate access to services that others are making money from. That is, if the EU will let them. ®

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