Zeugma Adds 'Turbo' Button

Edge routing startup Zeugma Systems Inc. has come out with another application that happens to hit a cable hot button: the "turbo" button.

Zeugma introduced SmartBoost today, following up on SmartMeter, a bandwidth-counting application it brought out in February. (See Zeugma's Brainy Bandwidth Meter and Zeugma Adds SmartBoost.)

Cable operators have been considering ways to temporarily boost bandwidth for a fee, a feature that might appease peer-to-peer (P2P) networkers who've balked at bandwidth limitations in the past. (See Cable Crafts 'Turbo' Option, Bright House Ups 'PowerBoost', TWC Powers Up 'Powerboost', and Amdocs Intros 'Turbo Charging'.)

Zeugma debuted last year with its Zeugma Services Node (ZSN), an edge router that includes computing blades that can house applications. In the months since, Zeugma has been developing and debuting some of those, trying to show off the router's utility. (See Zeugma Rethinks Edge Routing.)

SmartBoost is meant to be controlled by the subscriber, and the hard part of a service like that is getting different pieces of the network talking to each other: the DSLAM, the authentication server, billing systems, and so on, says Kevin Walsh, Zeugma's vice president of marketing.

Zeugma's argument here is simple: Since the ZSN can handle many of those functions -- subscriber management, in particular -- most of that cross-communication gets avoided, making the application theoretically easier to implement.

(You'd still have to connect to a billing server, "but that's a standard inferface that's more or less easily done," says Kevin Walsh, Zeugma vice president of marketing.)

The simplicity argument works best if an operator doesn't already have a subscriber management infrastructure in place. That makes smaller operators a particular target for Smart Boost, since "they're only now moving to B-RAS [broadband remote access server] architectures," Walsh says. In those cases, Zeugma can swoop in and handle both access routing and subscriber management.

SmartBoost could also get into a Tier 1 or 2 network by having the ZSN sit alongside the B-RAS, taking over some aspects of the latter box's job. "But let's face it: Those are lengthy campaigns to pursue, especially if what you're doing is an entirely new service for them to provide."

One operator on the verge of implementing SmartBoost is Texas-based Hill Country Telephone Cooperative Inc.; it's still working on getting that billing interface completed, Walsh says. Hill Country is using the Roku Inc. digital video player in subscribers' homes, so Zeugma was able to work with Roku's software development kit to get SmartBoost onto a TV menu.

Zeugma also concentrated on the cosmetic side of things, to make SmartBoost feel more like a turbo button. That's a problem with the cable approach so far: "You, as a subscriber, can't see it or feel it, and can't determine that it's happening."

So, what's a fair charge for a boost of bandwidth? Walsh says some service providers are looking at about 1 cent per minute for each additional Mbit/s.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:59:45 PM
re: Zeugma Adds 'Turbo' Button

What do folks think of the idea of a bandwidth 'turbo' boost?

I can see the appeal, but I'm just not the target market.  I don't download anything that huge, and the fact that I'd have to pay for a boost *and* actually do something (even if it's just hitting a couple buttons on the TV remote) is probably enough to deter me. 

But for those who would be more likely to use it ... what would you be willing to pay for it?

Frank 12/5/2012 | 3:59:44 PM
re: Zeugma Adds 'Turbo' Button

Pay per squirt? What is this, if not a new approach (not so new, at that, actually) to manipulate artificially-derived scarcity? What type of end user will regard multi-media as merely an occasional, or casual, requirement going forward? The ideal would be for "service providers" to remain in front of demand, and charge appropriately for it. They should not come at it from the rear. SPs shouldn't be flicking spitballs for a price when their access ports are clearly capable of full-time high-speed throughput, and then charging extra for it, to boot. This feature would be laughable if it weren't for that fact that it has all the markings of things to come. Perhaps the next release will feature a capability that allows users to retro back down to dialup speeds during times of severe austerity, and charge less for those usage periods. Then again, that would only serve to defeat the real marketectural purpose here, now, wouldn't it.

palaeozoic 12/5/2012 | 3:59:41 PM
re: Zeugma Adds 'Turbo' Button

Geez, what's next? Power utilities charging by the watt? Gas stations charging by the gallon? McDonalds charging by the burger? Google charging by the click?

Um, wait a second...

Frank 12/5/2012 | 3:59:40 PM
re: Zeugma Adds 'Turbo' Button

I'd gladly wait a second, or for however long that it takes, if you or someone else would care to demonstrate how McDonnald's could repeatedly produce two or more hamburgers for the cost of one -- EVERY 1-to-2 years.

If we had been paying for broadband by the patty since the days of dialup, our monthly "broadband" subscriptions today would cost on the order of $20,000.00, not ~ $40.00. The price we pay for broadband is only marginally attributable to the number of bits that are sent and received.

iansltx 12/5/2012 | 3:58:53 PM
re: Zeugma Adds 'Turbo' Button

At a penny per minute per megabit, we're talking 1¢ for 7.5 MB of data. That's $1.33 per GB, more than even Time Warner Cable had the gall to propose as overage rates for their cable service.

Such pay-per-meg pricing is actually worse than dialup, when you consider that most dialup providers will now give you an unlimited-monthly plan for $7.95, or about $140 per megabit. Of course nobody sane would make that comparison, so I'll just put the deal in raw numbers: one megabit per second would cost sixty cents per hour, $14.40 per day, $432 per month (!?!) if used straight through.

As far as video goes, the situation becomes even more ridiculous. In order to watch an HD movie, let's say you need one megabit of extra bandwidth (you're on HCTC's 1 Mbps plan since you live out in the country, are paying $60 per month for the privilege, and are trying to watch a 2 Mbps H.264 stream). Even if the stream is free (Netflix for example) you're effectively pulling a $1.20 pay-per-view to get enough bandwidth to play the darned thing. Redbox is cheaper, and a full-quality DVD probably looks better than 2 Mbps HD service.

The real question here is whether networks are really congested enough that anyone *needs* to pay for a "turbo button" like this. These days, if your connection can't handle standard-def video without gimmicks, speed boosts or extra charges, your ISP sucks (mine does, as a matter of fact, and even when I ask them to uncap my connection for a few minutes...which they do for free out of the goodness of their hearts...their six-year-old last-mile equipment can't keep up). If your ISP doesn't even offer a tier that can play HD video well (3-5 Mbps thanks to modern encoding techniques) your ISP is merely lame. The lame-o-meter raises to "money-grubbing sucky" when your ISP insists that you pay them more to watch a movie on your $70 internet connection...per minute...than it costs to call long-distance to Canada or the UK via VoIP over that same connection. Particularly when the content being served is on a CDN that's hooked up to your ISP.

Of course, all my backlash is because I love HCTC otherwise. I don't have DSL right now (stupid Verizon) and they'll probably end up bringing me fiber. They have a ten-gigabit network backbone, whereas my current ISP is puttering along at 45 Mbps or lower. They hung the moon and put out the stars as far as rural internet in this area goes. However this speed turbo boost crap is just that, crap.

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