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'Net Insider

Implications of an improving Internet


By Scott Bradner

Network World, 04/04/05


Most of the Internet has been getting better over the past few years. In much of the world, the Internet is now good enough for all but the most demanding applications.


This improvement has been in the default "best effort" service and hasn't depended on ISPs implementing fancy QoS mechanisms. Paradoxically, some ISPs might see this news as a threat to their future financial health.


There are a number of research groups currently studying Internet performance, although it still is not easy to get good data, as KC Claffy details in one of her talks .


Claffy is the main investigator of Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA), an analysis and research group that is one of the best Internet-related research centers .


Members of the physics community also are studying the Internet. The International Committee on Future Accelerators has had working groups thinking about Internet performance since at least 1997. One such group was formed in 2002 and published a paper on the state of Internet performance in January . I'm not sure why the physicists are studying Internet performance, unless it's to figure out if they can use the Internet to deliver the (very) large data sets that their experiments produce. In any case, their work is very good.


Their latest report mostly deals with packet loss in data transmissions, with round-trip times and with data throughput between the Stanford Linear Accelerator and testing points throughout the world. The countries where the testing points are located represent 78% of the world's population and 99% of the world's Internet users. The test results show that by the end of 2003, the packet loss rate to countries with 77% of the world's population was low enough that VoIP would work with good or acceptable quality. This is up from 48.8% in 2001. One example is reliability within the U.S. - packet loss rate fell from more than 10% in January 1995 to less than 0.5% in January 2004.


Round-trip times have fallen and data throughput have increased. These improvements have been in the standard Internet "best effort" service. As Vonage and other overlay-VoIP services have shown, VoIP "just works" for much of the world most of the time. You don't have to pay the carriers extra for better service to make VoIP work well enough to be very useful. This fact might be a real threat to the financial well-being of carriers that plan to make more money by charging extra for better quality service - and that includes most of the traditional telcos. These carriers will be forced to try to make money selling a commodity service, unless more of them purposefully try to mess up their networks to mess up VoIP, as Vonage has claimed that some already do. These carriers could be in for a rough ride.


Disclaimer: Harvard claims not to be in the commodity service business but has not expressed an opinion on carriers that may be forced to be so - thus the above is my own opinion.