SBC Says Lightspeed Strategy Won't Choke Broadband Access
By Fred Dawson
SBC Communications' Project Lightspeed service strategy has sparked
considerable confusion and even alarm as to what the impact will be on
users ' access to Internet content and applications, but company
officials say nothing has really changed in terms of SBC's approach to
best-effort broadband service.
"The pipe has gotten much bigger, which means the user experience over
best-effort broadband will be better, not worse with Project
Lightspeed," says Jeff Weber, vice president for product and strategy
at the carrier. "But it's important to recognize the Internet is best
effort today, and it will be tomorrow, which is different from the
managed network we're creating with Project Lightspeed."
SBC has committed to delivering a suite of IP services, including
best-effort broadband, IPTV and voice over IP, via next-generation DSL
lines at an aggregate minimum rate of 25mbps to each household. Under
this scenario, about 5 to 6mbps is slated to be available for
best-effort Internet access, which "is what the cable companies are
offering," Weber notes.
The 25mbps threshold will not be a barrier to SBC's ability to expand
access bandwidth in response to market conditions, including demand
for higher speed broadband access, notes Chris Rice, executive vice
president for network technology. "We can bond two VDSL2 ports to
deliver 50mbps at 5,000 feet (of local loop), which, at 3,000 feet,
would increase to 80mbps," he says.
The question raised by consumer advocates and Web companies is whether
SBC Edward Whitacre in comments reported by Business Week in early
November was suggesting a new approach that would require portals,
third-party VoIP providers and other players to pay for use of the
carrier's network if they wanted to access its customers at the levels
of quality and bandwidth they' ve been accustomed to in the
best-effort broadband environment.
Whitacre, referring to Web entities, told Business Week "there's going
to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to
pay for the portion they're using.. For a Google or Yahoo! or Vonage
or anybody to expect to use these pipes free is nuts."
SBC officials said Whitacre was referring to the company's plans to
charge content suppliers for the quality-of-service, bandwidth
assurances, prioritization and other enhanced mechanisms available
through the Lightspeed network that would provide users a better than
best-effort experience. "It would be senseless for us to degrade the
broadband experience for our users when we have competitors who are
offering high bandwidth broadband services," Weber notes.
Left unanswered is the question of what allocation of significant
network capacity for quality-assured services, including
bandwidth-consuming IPTV, will mean to the amount of capacity that's
left over for best-effort broadband. Today all the IP-based capacity
for consumer services is used on a first-come, first-served basis by
packets flowing through the pipe. If that capacity is squeezed by
allocations of IP capacity to higher-quality services, best effort in
the new environment could be significantly affected.
While SBC hasn't provided specific clarification on this issue,
officials say the capacity expansion for IP traffic across metro
backbones as well as through access lines ensures the best-effort
capacity component will be unaffected. "We're spending a lot of money
to provide the carrying capacity for IP services that will deliver a
superior experience for our customers in all service categories,
including best-effort broadband," Weber says.
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