Sunday, October 28, 2018

Is Network Slicing the Key to Mobile Speed Tiers?

Speed tiers are commonplace on fixed internet access networks, while they have been impossible on mobile networks. But that could change.


Virtually nobody seems ever to have suggested that network neutrality outlaws speed tiers, where different service plans are available on fixed networks, featuring differing speeds (25 Mbps, 100 Mbps, 300 Mbps and 1 Gbps, for example).


That might seem odd, since much of the language around network neutrality has been opposition to the creation of fast lanes on the internet. In principle, we might agree that the specific objection is to blocking or slowing lawful apps, not fast lanes as such.

Network neutrality often is said to allow internet service providers to “block” lawful content or charge additional fees to content providers when quality of service mechanisms are applied to service tiers.


Were the real objection fast lanes, then net neutrality supporters would have objected to differential speed tiers, where consumers can choose to buy slower or faster tiers of service. They did not. So the issue really is blocking or otherwise “slowing” some lawful apps.


It is even more complicated than that, though. As a practical matter, what net neutrality supporters tend to object to is any ISP ability to create business arrangements with content or app providers that ensure better quality of end user experience by reducing latency.


As many have pointed out, that is precisely what happens every day, when content delivery networks are used. CDNs cache content at the edge of the network to reduce latency and improve experience.


That necessarily is “unfair,” since app and content providers pay money to use a CDN.


So consider 5G networks that assume the use of a core network that inherently can create many virtual private networks, all the way to the radio edge, that have different performance characteristics.


This already is envisioned as a way of supporting enterprise networks with distinct use cases. Might the same approach be taken to support several speed tiers of mobile access?



In principle, such a network can create “network slices” or virtual private networks that might include a “bronze, silver, gold” approach to access speed, something that has not been possible on mobile networks, up to this point.


At least in principle, three VPNs (network slices) could be created to support access by customers on bronze, silver or gold plans, with two of the plans featuring higher speeds than the standard level of service.


A routine retail offer on fixed networks, that form of service differentiation has never been practical on mobile networks. That could change.

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