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Sandvine: We're Fine

Jeff Baumgartner
8/22/2008
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The fact that Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) is using gear from Sandvine Inc. to manage network traffic is one of the cable industry's worst-kept secrets. Although the two have never formally announced a relationship, it's been common knowledge for years that they've been working together.

But that fact officially became public record in late July when Comcast disclosed its ties to Sandvine in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) , noting that the vendor's platform can "delay" unidirectional peer-to-peer (P2P) upload sessions when certain congestion thresholds are reached.

Of course, that FCC order, published Wednesday, holds that Comcast's policy in those situations is a no-no and the MSO has until year's end to migrate to a new system, something the operator is already doing. (See FCC Puts Comcast on the Clock , Comcast Getting 'Protocol Agnostic', Comcast CTO: Manage People, Not Protocols, and Comcast Ready to Test New Traffic Cop.)

So, the government wrist-slap means Sandvine's relationship with the MSO is in jeopardy, and all of that Sandvine gear and software will soon be rendered as useful to Comcast as an old-school anvil, right?

Wrong, according to Tom Donnelly, a Sandvine founder and the company's executive vice president of sales and marketing.

"We've never felt this issue was something that would affect our long-term business, in the sense that we're a policy enforcement platform that can comply with a wide range of policy directions and/or regulations as it relates to what are reasonable and unreasonable policies," Donnelly says. "This [order] probably eliminates some of the uncertainty about what service providers might want to do."

Playing 'fair'
As far as compliance is concerned with that new "protocol agnostic" method Comcast is already testing, Sandvine believes its new "FairShare" extension will fit the bill.

Introduced in May, FairShare, which can be added to existing Sandvine deployments via software, "is oriented toward identifying the sources of congestion in a non-applicaton-specific way, and applies policies to address that congestion to ensure fair use and fair access to network resources by a broad mix of users," Donnelly explains. (See Sandvine Unveils FairShare.)

That's a mouthful, but it does sounds much like the approach Comcast is vetting. A Comcast spokesman confirmed a report this week that the new system could slow down some cable modem customers for periods in the range of 10 to 20 minutes until the state of congestion clears up. That slowdown timeframe is a "rough guide," the Comcast official said. "We've always said it [the delay] would be a matter of minutes."

But there's still no telling how much of Comcast's "protocol agnostic" technology market will be seized by Sandvine. Comcast is conducting a bake-off of products from a list of still-undisclosed vendors. Likely candidates in addition to Sandvine include Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) and Camiant Inc. . (See All's 'Fair' in Love & Bandwidth Management, Arris Makes 'Fair' Play, and Camiant Intros 'Fair Use' Bandwidth System.)

Donnelly says several large DSL, cable, and wireless service providers are evaluating or have already deployed FairShare.

"Our solution is not simply a single-function, single-operation device. It can be used in a variety of fashions," Donnelly insists, noting that Comcast also uses Sandvine to manage outbound spam and identify "malicious" traffic.

Sandvine can also do metered broadband, something that some operators are already testing or deploying. (See Get Your Meter Running, Rogers Takes Internet Meter to the Masses, and TWC Tees Up Metered Internet Trial .) Comcast reportedly has also considered putting a transparent, monthly 250 gigabyte cap on excessive users. (See Comcast Caps Coming? )

A wireless service operator in the Philippines has already tapped Sandvine for a capped service. Rather than apply a dumb bit-counter, though, the provider wants Sandvine's system to ensure that some traffic (i.e. service announcements and company promotions) isn't applied to a customer's total unfairly.

"You'd want detailed measurement of usage and to apply that data usage in sophisticated fashion," Donnely says.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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