BT says no to traffic shaping

BT says no to traffic shaping

Summary: Telco will refrain from degrading other providers' services, claims one of the key executives behind BT's next-generation network

TOPICS: Networking

BT will not need to degrade certain types of traffic on its network because enough bandwidth will be created, according to one of the key executives behind the telco's next-generation network.

Matt Beal, BT Wholesale's chief technical officer, said on Thursday that the rollout of the 21st Century Network (21CN) — BT's next-generation network — would "put enough [bandwidth] volume out there… so we don't have to [traffic shape]".

Traffic shaping is a means of prioritising certain types of data over others to avoid network congestion. The practice is at the heart of the debate over so-called "network neutrality", as some see it as a way to protect time-sensitive applications such as VoIP, while others see it as a way for operators to promote their own services over those of rivals.

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It recently emerged that the Canadian carrier, Rogers, has been traffic shaping for some time to the detriment of users who, for example, transmit encrypted data. On Thursday, Beal called such practices "quite Big Brother-ish" and maintained that 21CN, which is due for completion by 2011, had the "capacity and scalability" to make that sort of traffic shaping unnecessary.

"It is up to us at the core of the network to make sure there is enough bandwidth for [our services and those of our competitors]," said Beal, who claimed that trials of high-definition TV — the kind of bandwidth-intensive application that some fear could result in network congestion — over 21CN had been successful.

Another solution that some have claimed could ease network congestion is fibre to the premises, known generically as FTTx, but Beal appeared to dismiss the idea of that becoming a widespread reality any time soon. While he said that "proof-of-concept" FTTx trials had been "exceedingly promising", he claimed that the cost of rolling out 21CN made a fibre rollout increasingly unlikely. "It is not something I would envisage us changing our policy on in the next couple of years," Beal said, while  adding that FTTx in the UK was purely a market issue, not a "technical or service or BT issue".

Beal also claimed that operators currently rolling out FTTx, such as KPN in the Netherlands, were doing so because they did not have the same kind of anti-monopolistic restrictions placed on them in their countries as BT has in the UK. In 2005 Ofcom forced BT to open up access to its exchanges to other providers — a practice known as unbundling. Beal suggested that a rollout of FTTx would mean BT would be obliged to let rival operators share in that connectivity, which was not much of a motivation. He also criticised some European operators who are rolling out fibre, suggesting that because they were concentrating on metropolitan areas they were "literally creating a digital divide".

The CTO also conceded that the headline broadband speeds that 21CN was supposed to bring — 24Mbps — were unlikely to ever be achieved "unless you are… in the exchange". He estimated that the real speeds customers were likely to achieve would be approximately 8-12Mbps.

Asked about BT's attitude to the upcoming spectrum auctions, which could be used for the long-range radio technology WiMax, Beal said he did not care who owned the frequencies. "BT can't afford to think like the incumbent," he said, adding that an "aggressive" auction, such as that which led operators to spend fortunes on 3G spectrum earlier this decade, might make it more expedient for BT to let someone else win the spectrum, then lease it from them.

Topic: Networking

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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  • What a hypocrite!

    So Beal calls such practices 'big brother-ish' does he? And yet BT is currently engaged in massive traffic-shaping, which commenced - somewhat ironically - this month, coinciding with this article.

    Whilst it's certainly good to hear that BT has no plans to implement traffic shaping under 21CN, I wish they would be more forthcoming about their current practice of throttling users' lines if any P2P traffic is detected.

    To make it worse, their system is broken anyway; a harmless RPG that one of my sons likes to play triggers the throttle after a couple of minutes - possibly due to the number of ports it opens - making his game almost unplayable.

    It took me two hours of calls to BT, being shuttled from pillar to post, before they finally admitted they are doing this. And they only did that because I had out of exasperation requested my MAC number.
  • But what kind of traffic shaping?

    Well, this is where it gets interesting. Any ISP which says it doesn't use traffic shaping at all is lying, unless it simply doesn't have enough subscribers to fill up its pipes. A lot of ISPs certainly throttle P2P during peak hours to avoid congestion, which messes with things like VoIP. Of course, it's the transparency issue that gets up people's noses here.

    Now, what Beal was talking about was the deliberate degradation of rivals' content in favour of one's own. Whether BT is indeed doing this is an argument in itself - after all, P2P is the basis for things like Skype, and what happens if BT throttles a competitor to its own VoIP service? Is it then doing good traffic shaping, or bad traffic shaping...?
    David Meyer
  • Which class are you?

    There are good points and bad points to traffic shaping, for instance a standard user will not see much impact from bandwidth throttling while using common applications.

    I think it boils down to the fact that ISPs need to learn how to identify various classes of users and how they use the Internet. Currently there appears to be three classes: light, medium and heavy. While this was an ideal starting point, not much as been done towards expanding these classes to benefit the users.

    As pointed out by 201206 gamers are one of the groups impacted by throttling. For those that play WOW the bit-torrent method used to distribute new patches is could flag that user with a P2P tag. Gamers also use voice communication software like Teamspeak or Ventrilo. While traffic from these is minimal, they can still reflect on how you use the Internet with ports

    I'm an avid gamer and have experienced bad packet (0.5% - 6%+) loss during peak activity periods (6pm - 11pm) in the past. Now there is no way of telling if this is due to me being bundled with P2P users and getting throttled or high-bandwidth users cause the whole network to slow on my ISP (all other 49 users watching You Tube videos all night).

    Either way it sucks to be impacted by actions of users that you have no influence over.
  • Not all ISPs target P2P as badly as BT

    BT never targetted P2P this badly before. We never had any issues at all until April, and upon googling and searching forums like's we found many others in the same boat. There were many furious posts from people who know a good deal more about this than myself, and the net result was that they agree with you; traffic shaping to *some* degree is expected. What's so bad (and disingenuous, almost) about BT's stance is that getting them to admit they aggressively target P2P is like getting blood out of a stone.

    In addition, someone on the forums made the excellent point that if an ISP is selling itself on speed, just whom does it expect to attract? Its best customers will be content downloaders - and not all of us either abuse the network with >50GB per month downloads, nor do we necessarily leech illegal material.

    BT can't convince me that 8Mb/s is necessary for emailing your grandparents in Australia, booking your hols and buying on eBay - or even watching vids on uTube. That's just blatant nonsense.

    There are still ISPs that don't traffic shape or, if they do, only during peak hours. Soon, as public awareness grows, this will become a major selling point and perhaps one day BT may even recant as they haemorrhage more of the early adopters who made broadband such a profitable business for them in the first place (it wasn't a few years ago, if you recall).
  • I agree

    Yes, it sucks. And in answer to your question I would class myself as a medium user. There are six PC users sharing a connection in my house; it only take one of us to play Maple Story, or start a torrent, for the rest of us to be hit. BT's model appears quite aggressive and rather broken because normal browsing is most definitely affected.

    Incidentally (in case you hadn't guessed) I'm user 201206 - I hadn't got around to changing my username from its default until after I posted that first comment.