Policy + charging

Zeugma's Brainy Bandwidth Meter

Edge routing startup Zeugma Systems Inc. is coming to market with a bandwidth and capacity meter application that, it believes, packs in a bigger brain than what's traditionally found in some "crude" byte-counters and service meters that some operators have already adopted. (See Zeugma Launches 'SmartMeter' .)

That app, called SmartMeter, rides on top of the Zeugma Services Node (ZSN), a service delivery router that's designed to sit at the edge of broadband networks. (See Zeugma Rethinks Edge Routing.) The SmartMeter is the latest in a series of apps envisioned for the ZSN's "Open Application Sandbox" (OAS). The first was SmartVideo, a platform that allows service providers to develop "opt-in," premium-class video streaming services. (See Zeugma Intros SmartVideo and Zeugma, Roku Team.)

While SmartVideo looks to take advantage of a wave of Web-fed video services, SmartMeter is entering the picture as service operators seek out ways to better manage their capacity through consumption caps and bandwidth meters -- a product category that's already becoming popular with major North American cable operators such as Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), and Canada's Rogers Communications Inc. (NYSE: RG; Toronto: RCI). (See Comcast Installs 250 GB Ceiling , Rogers Takes Internet Meter to the Masses, and TWC Tees Up Metered Internet Trial .)

But what's so special about Zeugma's entry? The company claims its app gives service operators a more flexible and granular way to set capacity parameters and to develop metered Internet policies that are less apt to tick off customers that grew up on flat, all-you-can-eat high-speed Internet service models.

One example is to break down traffic by type, and exclude, for example, all the "communications-oriented traffic" (VoIP, IM, and maybe even email) from a monthly usage cap that operators and carriers might target to basic or low-end service tiers.

Another alternative: Enlist a more customer-friendly policy that ratchets down the speeds of power users who breach byte caps rather than hitting them with additional fees or disconnecting repeat offenders from the system all together.

In addition to improving the efficiency of the network, lowering those speeds, say, from 10 Mbit/s to 2 Mbit/s, is better than chasing customers away, charging them more money, or otherwise discouraging them from using the service they're paying for, explains Curtis Sherbo, Zeugma's director of product management.

Zeugma's SmartMeter is also capable of applying policies that allow service operators to load balance capacity based on the time of day. Under this scenario, for example, the network would open up the spigot wider for a peer-to-peer (P2P) app during the evening or another time period when there's likely to be less congestion on the network.

"The basic idea is to give service providers [the ability] to track usage in a much more granular fashion, and then adopt policies that are more diverse and more flexible than simply [charging] a buck a gigabyte," says Zeugma vice president of marketing Kevin Walsh.

This is not to say that any of Zeugma's customers are doing any of these things yet, so it's hard to know whether any of these policies will resonate with consumers or can be implemented without much customer backlash. These are merely examples of the types of bandwidth/capacity policies SmartMeter customers would have at their fingertips.

Zeugma has no SmartMeter customers yet. As for the Zeugma Services Node, the foundation for all these apps, the vendor says it already has installations in North America and in Europe. BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) is among Zeugma's public partners.

So, when does the window of opportunity for the SmartMeter app start to open? "I think it's right now," Walsh says. "This is probably topic number one or two on most strategic agendas for service providers today. We're moving into an environment in which service providers need to improve the efficiency of their networks."

Although cable operators are among the early adopters of bandwidth caps and metered billing models, Zeugma won't be targeting MSOs at the get-go. Instead, the vendor will be pursuing deals with telcos and other service providers that are leaning a bit more heavily on IP-based video services.

The decision not to approach cable MSOs at this time "mostly has to do with our [market] focus, and not so much a focus of our product capability," Walsh says.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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