Policy + charging

Cox: Packet Delays Won't Hurt

Cox Communications Inc. believes its new Internet traffic management system will delay some "non-interactive" packets only during times of congestion and only briefly, not long enough for users to notice.

"We think [the delay] will be momentary in nature -- on the order of seconds or even subseconds. It's not like a packet's going to be delayed by three minutes," says Cox SVP of technology Jay Rolls, who discussed details of the system with Cable Digital News today.

Rolls likens the delay to an on-ramp in which a red light paces the traffic that's being allowed onto the main highway.

Cox is getting a chance to vet its theories, as it's testing the system in parts of Kansas and Arkansas.

Cox's pilot approach breaks traffic into "time-sensitive" (e.g., Web pages, voice calls, streaming videos, games), and "non-time-sensitive" (e.g., file uploads, peer-to-peer, and Usenet) categories. The system is intended to temporarily delay the upstream, non-time-sensitive traffic when network congestion is detected. All traffic returns to normal speed when the congestion abates. (See Cox to Test New Bandwidth Cop .)

This system differs from what Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) has recently deployed across the board. Comcast's system throttles speeds temporarily during states of congestion but does not put traffic into different buckets based on the time sensitivity of the application or protocol. (See Comcast Goes 'Protocol Agnostic' Everywhere .)

Through studies, Cox determined that delaying more interactive forms of traffic would be noticed by customers. "Those [interactive packets] we want to leave be, and really focus our attention on the non-interactive applications, which, frankly, are more tolerant of being managed," Rolls says.

And Cox doesn’t expect it will have to delay traffic very often.

"Most of the time our networks aren't sitting there in congestion or having problems. It's really the exception, not the norm. Think of this more as a tactical tool that can go on the spot and attack a problem that might crop up very quickly."

Cox spokesman David Grabert notes that the new Internet traffic system only applies to residential high-speed Internet services. Cox's business-class customers won't be subject to it.

Cox says its new system doesn't pick on particular protocols or applications, but the pilot system has drawn naysayers. Vuze Inc. , a company that uses peer-to-peer (P2P) technology to distribute video content, complained that Cox's system treats such services as "second-class citizens." Others have grumbled that Cox's traffic classification approach allows the MSO to "play God" with the Internet. (See Vuze Chirps at Cox.)

Cox, which is now spending more time explaining its system to policy makers and public interest groups, counters that its system actually benefits "over-the-top" video providers because it aims to provide a better consumer experience.

Rolls declined to say which vendors' equipment is being used in the trial, though Cable Digital News has speculated that Sandvine Inc. could be involved. "We didn't have someone come to us and pitch this to us. We came up with the concept," Rolls says. (See Sandvine Swings Second Fairshare Deal .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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