A new way to make uncapped ADSL work in SA

 ·20 Apr 2012

Cybersmart is set to launch its first uncapped ADSL products by June, taking on established uncapped Internet service providers including MWEB, Internet Solutions, Afrihost and Web Africa.

Cybersmart will not be the cheapest uncapped ADSL provider, but the company’s MD Laurie Fialkov explains that its service will offer high quality at an affordable rate.

However, offering uncapped ADSL products can be challenging, and Fialkov explained that it was only after the recent 30% wholesale IPConnect price cuts, and an investment in more hardware, that they could make the business model work.

Fialkov explained that, to be competitive, all ISPs need to oversell bandwidth to end-users – also known as contending bandwidth. What this means is that a certain number of users need to share the same bandwidth.

“We are planning on overselling our uncapped product at 15:1 to 20:1, which we believe is a lot better than the current products in the market,” said Fialkov.

The need for fair use policies

The Cybersmart CEO explained that there are a small number of users – around 8% according to their trials – who believe the service should provide them with full speed at all times.

“This means that these users try to download at full speed 24/7, leaving inadequate bandwidth to serve the other users who share the bandwidth,” said Fialkov.

The challenge, explained Fialkov, is:

  • For all customers to have a good experience without noticing that their bandwidth is contended;
  • To manage the 8% of users who intend to download continually without enforcing a harsh throttling policy.

“The ISPs that do not arbitrarily throttle subscribers employ some form of shaping,” said Fialkov. “The most common shaping equipment used is the Cisco SCE engines (a.k.a. Allot) which provide a wide range of options.”

Fialkov pointed out that automatic shaping software can help to ensure a good experience on uncapped accounts.

Shaping peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic, typically associated with online piracy, will further help to spread bandwidth fairly. “P2P services can use up to 50% of the available bandwidth, but is only used by 10% customers,” said Fialkov.

“The biggest problem with P2P downloads is that it opens hundreds of TCP connections that can be sustained for many hours. As a comparison, loading a webpage opens about 10 connections that last for around 10 seconds each,” explains Fialkov.

Fialkov highlighted that many P2P programs come with automatic encryption of traffic, making shaping challenging. “If you cannot classify it, you cannot shape it,” said Fialkov.

The Cybersmart solution

Cybersmart wants an uncapped ADSL product which has the following characteristics:

  • Unshaped bandwidth;
  • Can be used for business purposes where unknown or unclassified traffic is not slowed down;
  • No throttling policy;
  • Where subscribers do not know that their bandwidth is contended;
  • Where the 8% of heavy users could be managed without upsetting them too much.

The solution which provides Cybersmart with what it needs, is a product called Netequalizer. “We were so impressed that we asked for distribution rights for South Africa, which was granted to us,” said Fialkov.

“The way this product works, is it keeps track of the top TCP connections on a network. The equalizer rates the connections based on how long the connection has been alive and how fast it is going. It will then slow the ‘top’ connections down so they are not unfairly using the bandwidth,” explains Fialkov.

This solution means that business applications which use encryption are not arbitrarily slowed down (as is the case with many shaping solutions).

Fialkov added that the TCP rules will only be enforced during times when the network load is high. “If we are not under peak load then no connections are equalized at all,” said Fialkov.

Cybersmart is further planning to play completely open cards with its subscribers. “Our customers will be able to see if one of their connections has been equalized by using our ADSL usage page,” said Fialkov.

One limitation of the Netequalizer system is that it cannot rate limit a user (hence limit the speed per account) – Cybersmart will overcome this issue by bundling ADSL accounts and ADSL lines.

Fialkov concluded by saying that Cybersmart is planning to launch its home uncapped product before 1 June, with its business uncapped ADSL service following towards the end of the year.

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