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Carriers, Step Up Your Game

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
12/29/2004
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Blowing away enemy combatants online may be just the thing to force broadband service providers to upgrade their networks and focus on quality of service, according to a white paper released by Internet traffic-monitoring company Sandvine Inc. (see Broadband Gaming Traffic Soars).

The release of Microsoft Corp.’s (Nasdaq: MSFT) first-person, real-time shooting game “Halo II” quadrupled network traffic on Xbox Live when it was released on November 9, Sandvine says. The company believes that such a large increase in the number of users gaming online will put pressure on service providers to increase the quality of their service to retain gamers who demand reliability and low latency.

Current broadband networks are not optimized in the data plane (Layer 7), which makes it difficult for service providers to provide premium services. “Service providers lack the ability to meter, bundle, individually charge, or guarantee QOS for specific applications because they can’t adequately identify or control the evolving myriad of broadband traffic types,” the paper states. “This is particularly true of gaming traffic, but also relates to other popular broadband applications like VOIP, streaming media, and peer-to-peer file sharing.”

Laurel Networks Inc., an edge router vendor, sees gaming as one of many bandwidth-intensive applications that will force service providers to upgrade their networks. “Because gaming is so latency-sensitive and susceptible to packet loss, carriers are going to have to deal with it as gaming becomes more widespread,” says Laurel Networks VP of marketing, Steve Vogelsang. “They are either going to have to upgrade their access lines -- which most of them are already doing -- or create a gaming-specific network overlay dedicated to gaming and other high-bandwidth services.” While nearly everyone agrees that better, faster networks are needed, there's some debate about what will prompt consumers to pay more for premium services. Laurel's Vogelsang doubts the end user is going to pony up much more cash for an enhanced gaming network. “Halo II customers already have to pay for the game and a subscription to play online,” he says. “They’re probably not going to want to shell out more money. It’s more likely that the content provider will pay for a special connection from the RBOCs or cable providers to guarantee access.”

Since access providers aren’t receiving revenue from the sales of online games, the cost of an upgraded infrastructure that guarantees low latency and low packet loss will fall to content providers or end users, Vogelsang says (see Online Games Pose Carrier Conundrum).

“People buying the game expect it to work as advertised,” he says. “Online gamers just want to be sure that when they’re about to shoot an enemy online, a dropped packet won’t delay the game and have them getting killed instead.” — Chris Somerville, Senior Editor, Next-Generation Services

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