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December 14, 2017

Will the End of Net Neutrality Impact WebRTC Operation and Adoption?

The FCC just voted to eliminate the restrictions on ISPs to arbitrarily limit internet traffic. There are a range of arguments on both sides and there will be court challenges for sure, but this should be concerning to those of us using the internet to carry real time services. The entire enterprise telecom industry should be concerned. But for those of us in the real-time IP and WebRTC space it may be even more critical, as we are totally dependent on Internet carriage.

Net Neutrality rules limited providers form providing ”fast lanes” for some traffic or to arbitrarily throttle other traffic. This meant that our voice and video packets moved through the open internet with the same priority and service levels – or lack thereof – as everything else. The result is ISPs have generally operated their networks with sufficient headroom to enable the majority of video traffic to have reasonable service levels, enabling reasonable real-time carriage.

The vote to Net Neutrality rules may change that. For example, if Netflix contracts with an ISP to deliver their video packets with higher priority, those packets may be prioritized ahead of your VoIP packets. An ISP like Comcast would be enabled to “slow” packets from a cloud UCaaS provider that does not pay them a premium and competes with their bundled business voice services. Or you may be asked to pay a premium for viable voice or video over IP services by your user’s ISP.

The traditional VOIP and IT concerns come when employees, partners, customers, etc. are using your communications services outside your internal network. With Net Neutrality, the overall experience of VoIP has been generally good on the network. With these new rules that may change. And, as VoIP does not really understand the IP network, these issues may come up in random ways. For example, an employee telecommuting from home or a hotel may suddenly have terrible voice quality due to restrictions of one or more ISP or interconnects in the IP path. This is true for hotels, guest workers, hot spots, etc.

But for new pure IP services that are WebRTC based be the impact may be even more dramatic. During a recent webinar, Genesys indicated that 20% of their Pure Cloud traffic was over WebRTC, not the PSTN. How will the elimination of Net Neutrality impact a customer who clicks on the click to connect on your website and the traffic is now limited by their ISP who sells a phone services and tracks and limits VoIP traffic. Will Genesys negotiate preferential traffic characteristics with a full range of ISPs?

And many WebRTC services are video oriented as well. The higher bandwidth required for modern HD based video conferencing may be even more impacted. If conferencing traffic is relegated to a low priority with general web video, the quality may be dramatically impacted. Streaming video uses buffering to hide network latency and packet loss, real time services do not have any way to really mask significant latency or loss. How will cloud video solutions like Zoom perform if their traffic is impacted?

ISPs may move to provide the ability to classify traffic so our IP based real time services get the SLA they need to deliver quality communications and all may be well. However, the cost may be significant, both in real dollars and in network and operations complexity. As there are no real QOS based peering relationships between service providers, purchasing QoS from one ISO may not come with any end to end guarantees. The alternative is a potential for VoIP traffic to be adversely impacted by the new restrictions and preferences that may be ushered in by the end of Net Neutrality. We all should be on the lookout for changes that could have major impacts to our entire industry. Every enterprise IT organization should examine how they use the Internet and how the elimination of Net Neutrality may impact their operations.

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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