VOIP services

Officials Say Europe's Telcos Block VoIP

11:00 AM -- In a move certain to light a new fire under the net neutrality debate in Europe, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) has unveiled the preliminary findings of a carrier survey on "Internet traffic management practices." (See EU Regulators Study Traffic Management.)

An impressive 400-plus operators (about 250 fixed and 150 mobile) responded to the survey, with BEREC concluding that the "blocking of VoIP and P2P traffic is common." A "very diverse range of commercial and/or technical practices [are] being used by European operators in the different national markets" to block certain types of over-the-top (OTT) traffic, finds BEREC, which plans to release more detailed findings during the second quarter.

There's a chance the results could demonize certain technologies deployed by the operators, as the regulators' body found that the blocking of VoIP -- which happens "mostly on mobile networks, usually based on specific contract terms" -- is "typically done through deep packet inspection (DPI)."

What will be particularly interesting to see in the more detailed report, though, is the drill-down on which specific applications are targeted for blocking (expect Skype to feature prominently here) and why. For instance, have the operators claimed that congestion management and contract terms are the primary reasons for throttling and blocking practices? And have any admitted that VoIP services are blocked for competitive/commercial reasons (to protect their own revenue-generating voice services)?

Such issues are, of course, important for consumers, network operators, the OTT service providers and regulators. But they are also important in terms of partnership relations: For instance, how will Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) react to any evidence that the mobile operators are deliberately blocking Skype? The software giant, which is still trying to close its acquisition of VoIP player, is becoming a more valued partner to service providers but will surely struggle to sit back and watch Skype be given a rough ride over operator networks, especially as it moves to add Skype to the Windows Phone mobile operating system. (See Microsoft Fills Hole in Skype, Cisco Challenges Microsoft/Skype Deal and Microsoft to Buy Skype for $8.5B .)

BEREC could find itself opening more than a few cans of worms with its more detailed report.

— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading

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