Leading telcos reopen net neutrality debate at BBWF

Europe's major telcos - BT, Orange, Vodafone, Telefonica and Belgacom - agree on the need to charge third-party, over-the-top service providers for guaranteed quality of service.

The alternative - net neutrality - would spell commercial disaster, says BT.

"If we are there (net neutrality), then we can pack up and go home. It's important to have some way to have some sort of quality of service," said George Nazi, president, 21CN and global networks and computing infrastructure, BT, speaking Wednesday on a panel of service providers at Broadband World Forum Europe.

However, the operators agree they have not gone far when it comes to offering third parties different levels of quality of service, from best effort up.

"If we really reflect on our collective track record I am not sure how many of us have done this... in a deep way... without dual networks that sell SLAs in different ways," said Vivek Badrinath, executive vice president, networks, carriers, platforms and infrastructure, at Orange.

Yet the emergence of Internet-based voice and other communication services from powerful over-the-top players, notably Google, has created an imperative for telcos to look afresh at how operators provide SLAs to third parties that compete directly with their own services.

"I'm not sure we have done well saying what we mean by quality of service," said Scott Alcott, executive vice president, service delivery engine, Belgacom.

"We need to be careful and not arrogant... As we are developing a... walled garden we need to notice [that the] Google voice [application] is in the cloud with a lot of IP Centrex type services... and reconsider what we intend to control and manage," said Alcott.

"I think there is a great business in quality access. We should create a platform... to allow third parties to put applications... and concentrate on SLAs," believes Alcott.

The need to manage quality of service promises to be particularly pressing on mobile broadband networks, according to the speakers.

With "fixed access the capacity is infinite and in the core we can increase capacity efficiently. In mobile it is a different story. A key aspect will be mobile access... [where] guaranteed quality of service will be a reality," said Cayento Carbajo Martin, director of technology and planning, Telefonica.

Vodafone agreed that prioritisation of services will be an issue on mobile networks, particularly as they start transporting healthcare and other services.

"There are two ways to look at it. One is scarcity of resources... for example, an instant heart-read... or a diabetes feedback is... certainly more important than... YouTube. Prioritisation does matter," said Vodafone CTO Steve Pusey.

But although the issue is not new, "it has been a bit of an afterthought," he believes. "The complexity of service needs dealing with on a more intelligent basis."

Yet the industry still has work to do on both the mobile and fixed side.

"Giving priority in the radio network... there is a lot we need to do," said Badrinath.

"The problem here is that we haven't agreed the access supply chain. What quality of service there has been... has been higher up in the stack," commented Nazi.

"How do we end up monetising it? We know we need to do it. How do we lock in quality of service in a standard way?" he asked.

This article originally appeared on Total Telecom