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The Internet Communications The Almighty Buck

BBC iPlayer Bandwidth Explosion Bodes Ill For ISPs 249

penfold69 writes "Dave Tomlinson is one of the network gurus at PlusNET PLC, a Tier-2 ISP in the UK. He recently put up a blog post about the ramifications of the BBC iPlayer for the ISP industry in the UK. The post makes some very interesting reading regarding the bandwidth usage triggered by the iPlayer, and raises timely questions about the Net Neutrality debate. The Register also picked up on this story with a good review of who is going to have to pay for all this legal video streaming."
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BBC iPlayer Bandwidth Explosion Bodes Ill For ISPs

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  • by allcar ( 1111567 ) on Friday February 22, 2008 @11:33AM (#22514994)
    I've just had an upgrade from Virgin Media to 20Mbps. I do get that speed, too. Trouble is, after I've downloaded a gig or two, I get throttled back to 5Mbps until midnight. Virgin reserve the right to tweak these parameters at their own convenience. I guess that is the future we have to get used to.
  • Re:Multicast? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ochu ( 877326 ) on Friday February 22, 2008 @11:35AM (#22515032) Homepage
    The BBC iPlayer is a Youtube-style service. It contains every in-house and second-party programme broadcast in the last week, and selected shows older than that; mainly previous episodes of series that are ongoing.
    This is distributed in two ways: the first is a flash video player, modelled on youtube, that shows the videos low-res in a browser window. The second is a via a kontiki P2P system, which allows users to download DVD quality DRMed videos onto their (currently Windows, Mac soon, Linux almost certainly never) computer.
    The BBC also do multicast via several ISPs, but this is almost completely unpublicised, and apart from news, nigh-on content free.
  • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) * on Friday February 22, 2008 @11:50AM (#22515228) Journal

    avoiding the need for the ISP to use the more expensive connection to the overall internet

    That's why major ISPs peer with major content providers instead of trying to use their main edge connections to pull down all of that traffic. Here in the states I know that Roadrunner at least (possibly others, though I don't have direct experience with them) is working on building out their own nationwide IP network and relying less and less on their Tier 1 provider (Level 3).

    I think peering arrangements like this will prove to be more fruitful in the long run then trying to cache the data locally. It's a hellva lot easier to peer with Youtube/Netflix/the BBC/what-have-you then it is to try and mirror terabytes of content on your own network and keep it up to date.

  • by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Friday February 22, 2008 @11:55AM (#22515286)
    Anyone who's sat down and looked at their ISP's Fair Use policy will realise that they just aren't set up to provide the speeds they advertise at anything like a decent capacity. Talk of downloads replacing movies is hilarious when your ISP throws a strop when you download more than 5GB (less than one SD DVD!) in a single evening. Seriously, all the bluster about amazing high-speed ADSL networks is completely overstated by the ISPs. They can perhaps provide the advertised speeds of 2Mbps as a peak for a small amount of their customer base at a given time, but the mean network traffic probably only equates to about 128kbps per customer.
  • by teh kurisu ( 701097 ) on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:18PM (#22515632) Homepage

    Ian Wild, a PlusNet employee, left the following comment on TFA:

    It would make no difference whether we had the content stired on our network or whether it is served directly by the BBC. We have great peering links with the BBC and the cost of transferring the data from them to us is effectviely zero, a well a being very fast. The bottleneck is within the BT Wholesale network and your line speed.

    All of the ISPs costs come from the BT Central pipes, which link the exchanges around the country with the ISPs network. Because each customer has their own 'tunnel' through this network there is no further significant efficiency to be had with the current infrastructure as provided by BT.

    Not entirely sure what the implications are for caching solutions, but it sure is interesting.

  • by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <slashdot&worf,net> on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:26PM (#22515748)

    The standard response to "increase bandwidth" is "P2P apps consume all available bandwidth, increasing bandwidth won't solve anything", but that response overlooks the fact that you aren't automatically obligated to increase the bandwidth provided to end users. Improve your core network while keeping your customers in the same bandwidth tier they currently have and you'll solve the problem of p2p bogging things down.

    That's half the problem

    The other half is stuck in the last mile. Cable is a bad way to upload a lot of data. Sure there's a lot of bandwidth, but cable has very poor uploading characteristics. Just a few people in the highest paid tier of service using all the upstream can easily deny the rest of the people of the node access to the Internet.

    It's not just the ISP, but the last mile technology used. Cable and DSL came about with the assumption that most people download way more than they upload. Unfortunately, Bittorrent doesn't do this (if you want a good ratio, you have to upload as much as, or more than you download). A few people paying for 10M/1M service in a cable node can easily take down the entire node.

    You may notice that the companies having issues with this tend to be cable companies. Shaw (BitTorrent throttling) and Rogers (encrypted traffic throttling) in Canada (two largest cable companies), Time-Warner Cable (iTunes throttling, byte metering), Comcast (RST packet spoofing for P2P), amongst others. Cable just can't handle the upstream component of P2P.
  • by mariushm ( 1022195 ) on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:33PM (#22515832)
    Someone who can afford to pay 4 dollars for a minute can easily burn that bandwidth each day.

    For example see this : Amazon Unbox Movie Rentals []

    File Size 2.3 GB
    Bitrate 2500 kbps
    Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
    Audio Channels 2

    If I have the highest plan that my ISP offers me and I can afford to pay four dollars to rent a movie, why should my ISP restrict me from using my bandwith legally? They've set the prices and have a contract with me, they should fulfill their part of the deal without moaning.
  • by clare-ents ( 153285 ) on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:39PM (#22515928) Homepage
    It's a real problem because the UK infrastructure architecture is plain bizarre.

    There are two types of ISPs,

    BT / Virgin / Easynet + a few others who have unbundled kit in exchanges and their own pipes to exchanges

    Everyone else who resells capacity from the above, who pays a fixed price for capacity irrespective of where in the country it came from.

    All that capacity goes back to telehouse where LINX is and all the content and internet exchange takes place.

    There is no peering at the local exchanges, or apart from London or Manchester.

    So when a two BBC users with the P2P iplayer service but different ISPs, all the traffic goes to London and back again. Even if it's the same ISP the ISP doesn't see it until it leaves the resellers pipes in London at which point it gets shipped back down the pipe it came from. When I downloaded a programme on my laptop that was already on my desktop PC I got a download rate of 500Mbits as it streamed across my internal gigabit LAN - if we had peering at the exchanges and decent ADSL uplinks we should be able to do that within metropolitan areas.

    Now this may work itself out - there aren't any really long distances in the UK, so we should be able to run 10Gbit ethernet backhaul between exchanges relatively quickly and cheaply for unbundled providers, but to really do it well we need peering in every major city between the majority of ISPs rather than the current model where every ISP ships all their traffic to London.
  • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) * on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:58PM (#22516338) Journal

    I don't know if is true or not, but I've read that the holders of the major backbones do charge per GB for their use. Your ISP (unless it's a backbone holder) does have to pay per GB.

    It's not true. They are typically priced for capacity and not per byte. Go take a look at the Wikipedia IP transit [] article.

    End result: That bittorrent user pegging his connection at 3AM probably costs the ISP next to nothing. The peak user might have some sort of cost (since they rely on oversubscription) but it doesn't cost nearly as much as they would have us believe.

  • by penfold69 ( 471774 ) on Friday February 22, 2008 @01:03PM (#22516450) Journal
    Ian's reply is bang on.

    Those of you in the US will not be familiar with the UK internet backbone arrangement.

    The overriding majority of cost for a UK ISP is the 'backhaul' from the consumer in their house, to the ISP network.

    Peering with other ISPs, Backbones and content provider is *very very* cheap, as they practically all peer into Telehouse via LINX.

    As Cable rollout is severely limited in scope in the UK, the majority of internet traffic is routed via BT from the consumer to the ISP network. BT have a fixed base price plus a per-GB charge for this facility.

    Thus, it costs the ISP to transfer data to the consumer. Caching only helps to reduce the traffic at the ISP peering points (which have negligible cost). It doesn't help reduce the cost to transfer that information to the consumer.

    The other alternative to BT is to use LLU (Local Loop Unbundling) providers. These ISP's have installed their own DSLAMs in the various BT exchanges, and rent 'backhaul' off of BT at more favourable rates than paying BT for the entire ATM circuit back to the ISP.

    However, the LLU providers are still charged a per-GB fee for the rental of the backhaul.

    This means that every bit of traffic passing from an ISP network to the consumer costs a set amount. This is where contention is used heavily (and by BT not by the ISP, actually).

    Multicasting won't help, as each multicast stream still needs to be transferred over this backhaul to the consumer, with BT charging for each GB.

    Yes, it's retarded, but yes this is how the UK internet industry works.

  • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) * on Friday February 22, 2008 @02:21PM (#22517874) Journal

    Actually, it's *exactly* like a kilowatt-hour.

    No, it's really not.

    You don't hear customers complaining they can't draw the max amperage their house's wiring will take, because they understood that if everyone did that, there'd be brownouts.

    I can draw the max amperage in my house if I see fit to do so. You do have a point though that the network probably couldn't handle everybody deciding to do it at the same time, but at the end of the day the electric company isn't going to start restricting my use of specific appliances -- they will either provide me with the power I want or cut me off (rolling blackouts) if the grid can't handle it. They aren't going to tell me that my hot tub is a less legitimate use then my washing machine.

    Anyway, you missed the point. Bytes themselves do not cost money. A kilowatt hour does. A kilowatt hour represents a specific amount of energy (3,600,000 joules if you are curious) that cost money (in the form of fuel for the power plant) to produce. A byte doesn't cost anything to transit -- the underlying capacity of the pipe itself is what costs money. An idle pipe costs the same amount of money as one running at 100% capacity.

  • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) * on Friday February 22, 2008 @03:40PM (#22519182) Journal

    Oh eat shit and die, sorry to be rude, but this is all bullshit. These beliefs are why people seem to actually buy into this net neutrality bullshit.

    Ah, you must be from the school of 'any beliefs contrary to my own are bullshit'. Ya know, you have some perfectly valid points and that extra little insult really wasn't called for.

    And yes, I work for an ISP.

    Congratulations. I used to be in the business too. I worked for a small town ISP with a whooping 4 T-1s (6.0mbits) of edge capacity. We had to deal with the Napster and Kazaa kiddies sucking up all of our resources -- and we managed to do it without charging per-byte or interfering with specific protocols. We did this by being up-front with our customers and selling them the amount of capacity that we could actually provide (256kbits). We didn't try to sell them 6mbit connections while using the fine print to say they'd never actually achieve that speed. We allowed them to go above 256kbits as available but we never told them that we were selling them more then that.

    Where does this belief that ISPs are insanely rich, money grubbing cheapskate operations?

    I dunno, maybe from the SEC filings of companies like Time Warner and Comcast showing hundreds of millions of dollars in net profit? I don't pretend that applies to a smallish operation such as the one that you've described but I do get extremely skeptical when an outfit the size of Time Warner tries to convince us that they will go broke if they upgrade their networks.

    Sorry to be so rude, but it is this uninformed bullshit that everyone buys into that has net neutrality on the verge of becoming a truth. Kiss VOIP goodbye, I won't be able to give priority to VOIP carriers anymore, I won't be able to reduce priority to Bit Torrent anymore so your video games work, even when your neighbor is beating the shit out of the backbone.

    Then don't fucking over-sell your capacity by that amount! If you can't provide 10mbit connections to your users without impacting performance then provide them with 8mbit connections instead.

    And net neutrality has nothing to do with being able to give VOIP priority over HTTP/Bittorrent. Net neutrality has to do with ISPs (both large and small) attempting to charge both sides of the connection (recall AT&T/BellSouth's musings about charging Google to reach their customers). Most sane people (myself included) aren't going to get upset if VOIP gets priority over bittorrent during peak hours. I am going to get upset if you go from 'best-effort' delivery of my bittorrent packets to forging RST packets to end my connections.

    you uninformed luser

    Yeah, that's productive.

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