Shutting Skype Out

By | September 23, 2005

Who actually pays for Skype? How about the network operators, who have to put up with all the extra traffic? And what are they doing about it? A piece from VOIP Planet, Keeping Skype @Bay, points to the arrival of products specifically designed to block Skype (and other p2p traffic) from their networks:

Skype is the poster child for such ‘undesirable’ traffic, from the point of view of facilities based network operators, as the VoIP technology provider and its peers bring no network capacity to the party; they essentially piggyback on others’ pipes.

And this is not just a minor nuisance.

Monty Bannerman, president and CEO of Verso, pointed out to that NANOG [the North American Network Operators’ Group] has probes all over the primary backbones. “They’ve been able to measure the rise in peer-to-peer traffic,” Bannerman said. “The last stats I saw—and that was at least a year ago—at that point over 30 percent of the backbone was p2p traffic—and rapidly growing.” This is traffic that brings in not a penny for the carriers whose networks the p2p traffic traverses.

For smaller network operators this is poison, the piece says:

“It’s one thing if you’re just having a rise in certain kind of traffic and its driving more capacity and people are buying bigger pipes from you as a carrier. But if that same traffic is robbing your paid subscriber base, it’s like eating poison every day,” Bannerman said. “There are really two camps here.” Bannerman continued. “There’s the p2p camp that says Skype’s an incredible new thing that everyone loves, but if you’re watching your business model being eroded every day, you’re in the other camp.”

Certainly the company mentioned, Verso, makes no bones about the fact it’s Skype they’re offering to block with their products. In a press release issued on Sept 14 it says of Skype calls:

 However, these calls typically run through multiple carriers’ IP networks and consume large amounts of bandwidth.  This traffic runs outside the traditional carrier revenue generation models and is therefore highly undesirable for them.  Furthermore, carriers currently do not have a feasible way to separately monitor and restrict this type of traffic on their network.  Verso’s new technology would fill this void.

Five days later, in another press release about its new NetSpective 2.0 Enterprise Filtering Technology, it mentions Skype again, aiming at somewhat different concerns:

 Additionally, the application specifically targets and blocks Skype software, which enables users to utilize the Internet to place undetectable and un-monitored voice calls to another end-user running a Skype application, leaving enterprise organizations open to a variety of liabilities and potential virus infections.

That’s interesting. Undetectable and unmonitored calls? What about mobile calls?

What’s also interesting about this is that Verso has its own VoIP product. One can’t help but wonder about the legal and ethical aspects of blocking one VoIP carrier traffic while offering your own product. Indeed, the VOIP Planet article specifically quotes Verso president Monty Bannerman as saying its filtering software could distinguish between certain kinds of traffic, so it “could actually degrade certain types of traffic—or prioritize others.”

I imagine this kind of thing is going to come to center stage as Skype (and competitors) grow. And as the VOIP Planet says, there are regulations about this kind of thing, though they differ from country to country.

[Andy Abramson of VoIP Watch has an interesting take on this debate.]

4 thoughts on “Shutting Skype Out

  1. Missbossy

    Ouch! Time to recalculate the forecast cashflows for Skype… looks like they sold out at the top of the market at $2.6bn. Who were E-bay’s advisors…?

  2. bytehead

    Quote – “This is traffic that brings in not a penny for the carriers whose networks the p2p traffic traverses.”

    Excuse me, but just what traffic _does_ generate a penny for carriers?

  3. Mas_Jimbo

    What about all the network managers at organizations like our own who have doubled or tripled the bandwith to handle VOIP and video conferencing. Some member of NANOG is making $$$ from this traffic.

  4. Rob Densby

    Of course some networks will try to block Skype. However, once this starts it then becomes a cat and mouse game. Skype just have to tweak their protocol so the detection software fails. In the end they could have the changes made dynamically so that within minutes a blocked connection could be unlocked. In the end you cannot stop progress… VOIP is progress and it will happen.


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