Netflix, Comcast, Verizon All Show Changed Roles Within Video Business

Network slicing--the ability to create customized virtual private networks--is a key underpinning of the core networks that will support 5G, and potentially creates new revenue opportunities for service provides able to provide such customized network features.

Perhaps inevitably, network slicing will create yet another opportunity to raise “network neutrality” concerns where many would argue they do not properly exist.

The whole point of network slicing is to allow creation of services with different class or quality of service (Cos/QoS) attributes. And, of course, that is the core of the consumer “best effort only” restriction, where CoS and QoS are prohibited, even if such features are allowable for business services and managed services (linear video, voice and messaging being the prime examples of managed services supplied by a service provider).

For entirely practical reasons, it seems likely that most network slicing deployments will support enterprise networks. That is because enterprises are the most likely to have an immediate business case, as enterprises have been the buyers of content delivery services, which likewise supply QoS advantages for enterprises in the application and content businesses.

For service providers and enterprises, network slicing should help optimize traffic and provide load management advantages. Because network slices are supposed to be highly dynamic, that feature also should simply chores related to creating and modifying wholesale capacity operations, such as supplying bandwidth to mobile virtual network operators.

For enterprises and service providers, the goal of fast and easy changes to network resources also should be supported, allowing “on the fly” adjustments to latency or capacity.

In the area of machine or connected car communications, network slicing should help create guaranteed low latency communications for those use cases where very-low and assured latency is fundamental.

Network slicing also should help in instances where quality of experience (latency and bandwidth) is important for end users.  

With regard to perceived “network neutrality” concerns, network slicing will provide additional evidence of how truly hard it is to separate “unhindered access to lawful internet apps” from legitimate network management practices. Network neutrality rules always have been murky on that division of prohibited and permissible traffic shaping practices.

The phrase “treat every bit equally” is unhelpful, in the context of network neutrality discussions, as most major suppliers of consumer internet apps already employ measures to treat their own bits differentially. That is the whole point of CDNs: unequal treatment.

The whole point of a CDN is to provide better quality of experience by minimizing latency, for the firms that choose to use CDNs.

Beyond that, the whole effort to case every business practice as covered by network neutrality (consumer access to all lawful apps; best-effort-only access) is further stressed by network slicing, to the extent that content or app providers decide to take advantage of such network features to improve quality of experience for their internet-accessed apps.

So is the effort to portray the only-important business practices covered by the “lawful access” and “no blocking” principles solely to access providers, and not to app providers. Amazon will not allow Google to sell its voice-activated home appliances on Amazon; Google blocks Amazon appliances from using YouTube.

That is more than “prioritizing packets,” that is actual blocking of lawful commerce and content. And yet, so far, there is little serious consideration of those business practices from the standpoint of maintaining end user or customer access to all lawful apps, content or products.

That, perhaps, is the main point. Business practices are not necessarily “violations” of internet freedom, though some believe zero rating, a business practice, also should be covered by such rules. Some would argue that the effort to cast only some business practices as violating internet freedom is wrong. Freedom is the better approach.

Consumers should have the freedom to use lawful apps. App, content and commerce providers should have freedom to choose their own business practices. Access providers should be free to create additional mechanisms, features and services for access that enhance quality of experience.

That makes even more sense as the roles blur and fuse. Increasingly, content ownership, content development, delivery and use are functions integrated across the value chain. Freedom for all is the better approach than “freedom only for some.”

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