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Increasing Customer Satisfaction and Revenue with Dynamic Bandwidth Management

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Keeping up with customer bandwidth demands is a big challenge for service providers today. Throwing bandwidth at the problem is not the solution. Instead, bandwidth management policies that moderate peak-time usage and tie revenue to bandwidth used can help operators stay ahead of the curve while getting the best return on their bandwidth investment

To gain more insight into the bandwidth dilemma, we talked to Bob Hunt, a Broadband telecommunications technologies and management consultant. Bob has over 24 years in the North American and European Cable spaces helping clients architect, build and manage the technology relationships in complex Video and Data network environments.

Bob was recently Vice President of IP Engineering at Charter Communications where he led the development and management of DOCSIS, IP Backbone and regional cores, VoIP, Video and Data Labs as well as Capacity Management and planning. He has also worked with numerous technology vendors to assess, design, promote and plan various Data and Video technology products and their delivery to market.

Obviously broadband in all its forms has changed dramatically over the years. What is the main issue providers are now faced with?

Hunt: The main issue, the biggest issue is bandwidth consumption. When you look back at the beginnings of broadband, the bandwidth consumption back then was nothing compared to what it is today. In fact, no one really gave it much thought. Now, you have real-time entertainment applications, such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and peer to peer sharing, that are consuming a great deal of bandwidth. In the process this is creating a tremendous cost to the operator as they try and keep up with bandwidth demand. This bandwidth squeeze is forcing operators to purchase more and more bandwidth and those costs are escalating, even if you can get it, which isn’t always easy to do. And if you look at the cost of that bandwidth, breaking it down based on the average revenue per user, those rising costs obviously are affecting the profit margins for operators.

That’s the one big issue I’m hearing every day. The other important issue impacting operators is the effect of the dwindling bandwidth on the subscriber’s experience.  Because of the type of networks we run, a “top talker” who is downloading and uploading a lot of data may very well be impacting another user’s experience. We always want to be cognizant of that, and that’s one of the reasons why there are broadband caps out there. We want to ensure that we can put a cap in place to mitigate demand if need be. It also allows the ability to upsell subscribers into additional data tiers.

In the past providers have used deep packet inspection (DPI) products to manage bandwidth. How has that changed? 

Hunt: DPI was useful for addressing bandwidth usage when peer-to-peer traffic was the only real bandwidth problem providers were dealing with, because it can manage traffic based on what application a subscriber is using. For example, if several users were sharing files on BitTorrent or Kazaa, you could manage only that traffic to solve the problem. Today, it’s the average user that needs to be managed because that’s where the bulk of the bandwidth use is coming from. Plus, managing bandwidth based on the application doesn’t fit within the FCC’s network management rules because it isn’t net neutral.

While DPI is still useful for getting an idea of what specific traffic is flowing across a network, it’s a costly solution for managing the traffic on that network. First, you need an expensive box to sit in-line in the network for each access point. Plus, you have to upgrade those boxes as bandwidth increases. A better solution is a system that uses IPDR to centrally collect the usage from each CMTS and then direct the CMTS to restrict usage based on things like the subscriber’s package, the time of day, or congestion on the network. By leveraging IPDR there’s no need for additional equipment in each headend, and no upgrade costs as overall bandwidth increases.

What exactly is IPDR?

Hunt: That stands for Internet Packet Detail Record. It’s part of the DOCSIS standard, and used to collect usage data from the CMTS. There are bandwidth management products that will collect and process that IPDR usage data from the CMTS, and they can tell the CMTS to enforce the provider’s predefined bandwidth use policies.

What about monthly bandwidth quotas based on total usage. Does that help solve the bandwidth problem?

Hunt:  Not really, if that’s the only bandwidth monitoring being done. What you wind up with is a lot of usage early in the month, and it really doesn’t do anything to help moderate usage during peak periods. So, it doesn’t do much to lower your costs or improve the customer experience. One of the challenges that operators have is that they must purchase enough bandwidth to handle peak demand, so managing peak demand is critical for maintaining a good customer experience as well as keeping costs in line. You can have monthly quotas, but you need to combine that with daily bandwidth management.

High bandwidth use has become more of a day-to-day function, or perhaps that should be said as an evening to evening function. For example, you start to see usage jump up at 6 AM, and it gradually ramps up until 5 PM. After 5 the peak begins to accelerate substantially to 8 or 9 PM when you’re really seeing the peak of the bell curve until midnight. Then, at midnight it starts to drop off.

Also, having a system that can look at network congestion in real-time and apply bandwidth restrictions whenever needed is important, because there may be other factors that affect bandwidth regardless of what time it is.

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