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Telstra contemplating speed-based plans, hits back at P2P criticism

Telstra is considering introducing speed- or application-based ADSL plans, it has revealed in a blog post aimed at busting the "myths" around its P2P throttling trials, following backlash from the public.

Telstra said it will be conducting two trials. A 'customer experience trial' will include testing whether application-based speed-tiered plans could be introduced by the telco in the future.

A 'traffic management trial' will test peak traffic and could include throttling speeds on peer-to-peer networks.

While the public has been critical of Telstra's intention to throttle speeds on peer-to-peer networks during the trial, concern has also been expressed about introducing speed-based plans.

Consumer advocacy group, ACCAN, earlier this week said it was concerned about the introduction of speed-based plans for ADSL because it had the potential to produce a "second class Internet connection" for those who couldn't afford faster speeds.

But Steve Waddington, CEO at ISP Exetel, said there is enough diversity in the ISP market for consumers to choose how they receive a broadband connection.

"I think every service provider should be free to decide how they deliver the bandwidth to their customers and customers will decide if they like one offering or one way of doing it over another way," he said.

While Telstra said it is undertaking the trials to "inform Telstra's future product and pricing decisions", it has come under fire for the peer-to-peer throttling trial.

Earlier in the week John Lindsay, CTO at iiNet, slammed the telco, saying it was just trying to avoid upgrading its ADSL network due to the NBN being rolled out.

Lindsay said Telstra is also just using the trial as a way to "ease in" the practice of throttling peer-to-peer networks.

"They are starting to take their customers on a journey. They know what the end point looks like, but they don't want to describe it too clearly just yet for fear of scaring off the profitable customers," he said.

"Calling it a trial is a nicer way of introducing the concept and the technology into the business."

Telstra has defended the trials, stating at this stage, it is simply looking at the impact of slowing peer-to-peer traffic, such as BitTorrent, as it is not "time critical", compared to VoIP and video streaming, and "so might be slowed without significant consumer detriment".

It said legitimate peer-to-peer traffic, such as Skype and gaming services, would not be targeted in the trial.

Deep packet inspection

Telstra will be using deep packet inspection for the trial, which identifies the characteristics of each data packet to determine the type of traffic.

However, deep packet inspection can be problematic, according to Exetel's Waddington.

Exetel throttled peer-to-peer networks in 2008 and stopped the practice a couple of years later.

Waddington said while it did free up bandwidth and was a cost effective solution, it also added another layer of complexity to managing the network and relied on complex algorithms.

"There was quite a lot of hands-on management to manually manipulate those tables and allow legitimate or non-P2P traffic through," Waddington said.

He said the deep packet inspection Exetel used was unable to detect all legitimate traffic. For example, some gaming protocols weren't known as legitimate and so customers complained about throttled gaming speeds.

Exetel stopped throttling peer-to-peer networks in 2010 when the price of bandwidth dropped and it became harder to implement.

"Four years ago we were paying around $200 per MB for bandwidth and when that got down to $50 it didn't become cost effective to try and save bandwidth, as opposed to the cost of the hardware and the equipment that you needed," Waddington said.

"Also, the ability for P2P clients to use stealth techniques and obfuscate the protocols they we were using [meant] it stopped it being as effective as we'd seen in the past."

Like the outcry over Telstra's trials, Waddington said customers reacted angrily to the throttling, but the company had no choice.

"People hated it ... [But] it was something that allowed us to control our bandwidth and allowed us to keep our plans competitive," he said.

"If you look on our forum you can probably see the amount of moderated [and] deleted posts [where] people used fairly direct language to express their views on what they thought."

Waddington said the ISP lost customers as a result of introducing throttling, but the net result was a gain in customers.

While Exetel was transparent about its peer-to-peer network throttling, Waddington said other ISPs have also previously carried out the practice -- they just haven't been open and honest about it.

"Have I actually seen these boxes installed -- equipment installed -- on another ISPs' rack [to shape peer-to-peer networks]? At least one," he said.

Is the problem congestion at Telstra?

Telstra's ADSL traffic has doubled every 12 months over the past four years, with the telco telling the ACCC about possible future congestion issues in November last year.

However, Waddington said he doesn't believe the problem is congestion because it would be cheaper for Telstra to upgrade than to deploy peer-to-peer controls.

ACCAN has also asked Telstra for evidence that peer-to-peer traffic is causing congestion.

"We're thinking it would probably be isolated to certain patches rather than across the board," Elise Davidson, media and communications manager at ACCAN, previously said.

Telstra is adamant it is merely conducting trials and it has nothing to hide, with it's CEO, David Thodey, saying there was nothing "heinous" about it.

While ACCAN has expressed concerns, Davidson said there doesn't appear to be anything untoward.

"I think Telstra are being open and transparent about this trial. I don't think they're really hiding anything," she said.

"They're addressing all of the tough questions pretty directly, but we'll be keeping a close eye on it."

Follow Stephanie McDonald on Twitter: @stephmcdonald0

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU


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