Network Neutrality Might Interfere with 5G: Uh oh.

Nobody yet knows what is contained in the 332-page Federal Communications Commission decision on network neutrality. Given the certain round of lawsuits, nobody knows whether the rules, or what parts of the rules, might ultimately be sustained. Nobody knows whether Congress might intervene at some point.

Assuming the rules eventually are sustained, or that major Internet service providers conclude they have to build their businesses as though some version of the rules will be in place, what are the outcomes?

Some believe European service providers might gain some global advantage, as European regulators seem to be heading in the other direction--lessening regulatory burdens--and creating more clear incentives for investment by ISPs.

The extent to which the current European Union vision of fifth generation networks will be realized remains unclear. The good news is that the vision is breathtaking. The bad news is that the  vision is breathtaking.

Telcos have a spotty record where it comes to next generation network visions.

That vision is that 5G will integrate networking, computing and storage resources into one programmable and uniļ¬ed infrastructure.

Some might say that would be the culmination of a multi-decade movement towards a unified “communications and computing” best exemplified, for example, by cloud computing, where the computing infrastructure and communications infrastructure are hard to extricate.

That is explicit in calls for a network protocol that features “dynamic usage of all distributed
resources,” as proposed by the 5G PPP. That is only part of a vision that incorporates flexibility, spectrum efficiency, sustainable, scalable, energy efficient access across optical, cellular and satellite networks.

As envisioned, 5G will heavily rely on emerging technologies such as Software Defined Networking (SDN), Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) and Fog Computing (FC).

The plan explicitly calls for use of frequencies above 6 GHz, to support end user bandwidth as much as 1,000 times more than is available today.

The caution is that telecom companies have had major issues when rolling out new “next generation networks.” Failure is more common than success. Recall that ISDN, broadband ISDN (ATM) and  IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) all were seen as “next generation network” protocols.

Now some observers worry that network neutrality rules could interfere with the 5G vision of seamless services provided across seamless networks. That is possible. But it is far more likely that ISPs and application providers will simply move to create managed services that are not covered under the rules.

That might work fine if a managed service is provided only on one network. But if required to work across any network, while retaining all the features, use of “best effort only” access as mandated by network neutrality rules might prevent the interworking.

Unforeseen consequences were virtually inevitable.
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