Speed limits to hit mobile broadband apps?

Nokia introduced tools on Thursday to help operators throttle bandwidth hungry applications such as VoIP and peer to peer file sharing over the mobile internet. The announcement comes hot on the heels of 3 UK’s promise to embrace the open internet.

From December 1, 3 UK will tear down the walls on its existing closed internet strategy and launch a mobile broadband service, it says will deliver a fixed line broadband experience.

But in adopting all the benefits of a fixed broadband experience for wireless users, it is anticipated that 3 and its peers will also inherit some of the concerns – P2P usage being one.

Fixed line operators routinely complain that a comparatively small number of P2P users ruin the broadband experience for the majority by hogging bandwidth and network capacity. To this end Europe’s major ISPs have quietly been directing threatening technologies – such as file sharing applications – to the internet hard shoulder.

Nokia’s Peer-to-peer Traffic Control claims to allow mobile operators to profitably manage the bandwidth available for P2P traffic by balancing the allocation of network resources. The offering will be commercially available during the first half of 2007.

Roberto Loiola, vice president of marketing and sales for networks at Nokia said “the solution gives operators the means to apply their business models by prioritising the traffic of preferred services and partners, maximise their return on network investment, and avoid becoming only bit pipes for other content providers”.

However, Sara Harris, senior industry analyst at Strategy Analytics, thinks that Nokia’s proposal puts the cart before the horse. “It’s still early days yet, let’s get the applications rolled out first before we start considering throttling some apps and providing quality of service to others,” Harris said, drawing a parallel with the net neutrality debate raging in the US.

Strategy Analytics forecasts that existing mobile technologies such as HSPA are set to dominate the wireless broadband market in a big way, but present day tariffs and fair usage policies form an obstacle to the abuse of mobile bandwidth. “In the fixed line space, heavy P2P users are likely to impact the bandwidth of everyone else in their street,” Harris said, “but in the mobile world it costs a fortune to download gigabytes of data and stringent fair usage policies prevent flat rate tariffs being taken advantage of.”

Meanwhile, Strategy Analytics estimates that mobile broadband users worldwide are set to cross the 500 million boundary by 2010. In that timeframe, alternative technologies such as WiMAX will contribute just 6 per cent of the total, the analyst said.

Harris believes that going forward “HSPA and EV-DO will be more than acceptable for most users, giving them the speed and flexibility they want to use their fixed internet applications on the move”.


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