Verizon Takes a Step Forward

PC Magazine broke a very interesting piece of news Saturday about a new system Verizon has developed for their wireless network. Briefly put, this system presents an API that allows applications to signal their bandwidth and latency requirements to the network, and allows the network to provide tailored service for a fee. It’s like have a “turbo” button on your smartphone that gives you the choice to run at the standard, “best-efforts” performance level or to get a slight boost for a fee. According to the story:

Verizon will publish an API that could allow consumers to “turbocharge” the network bandwidth their smartphone apps use for a small fee, executives said Tuesday.

Verizon anticipates that a customer running an app on a smartphone will have the option to dynamically snatch more bandwidth for that app, if network congestion slows it down, said Hugh Fletcher, associate director for technology in Verizon’s Product Development and Technology team. The app, however, must be running what Verizon referred to as the network optimization API it is currently developing, and hopes to publish by the third quarter of 2012.

Users could have the option to pay for the extra bandwidth via a separate microtransaction API Verizon is developing and hopes to have in place by the end of 2012, Fletcher said.

This is a system that makes perfectly good sense for applications that need specialized treatment from the wireless network, either in terms of high reliability (low packet loss) or low latency. I can slso see the system being used for applications that require less than standard service for a lower fee, but that option doesn’t seem to be part of the system yet. This is the kind of system that would be troublesome under some versions of the net neutrality rules that various advocates have offered, but which would be fine under most other formulations of a net neutrality rule.

It illustrates quite clearly why so many of us have opposed the heavy-handed and overly simplistic rules that have been floated by well-meaning advocates who don’t understand the finer points of network engineering.

This system was demonstrated at Verizon’s Application Innovation Center in San Francisco along with several other interesting apps that partners have developed in close collaboration with the company.

Reaction to this system has so far been somewhat muted. Techmeme highlighted the story, and most of the discussion has been positive. See: Pulse2, BGR, Engadget, The Consumerist, Rethink Wireless, TMCnet, The Verge, Droid Life, DSLreports, PhoneArena, Electronista and Slashdot for a good sample.

As I expected, the criticism is confined to the new (and quite moronic) blog “The Verge” and to traditional pro-piracy, anti-network management crusaders such as Karl Bode’s DSL Reports.

The discussion among the geeks at Slashdot is quite mixed, with some arguing that the system violates net neutrality and others insisting that it doesn’t, provided that all apps can access the turbo mode. When Free Press learns about it, I’m sure they’ll say it’s the end of civilzation or words to that effect.

I like it because it allows a broader range of applications to run successfully on a moderately-to-heavily loaded network, but I imagine YMMV. Pipe up in the comments if you care to critique.