It's 11 p.m.: Do you know how much peer-to-peer traffic is going through your Internet protocol platform? That's the key question Ellacoya Networks Inc. will ask cable operators as it rolls out a IP switch and software system designed to help broadband providers determine which homes are eating up valuable bandwidth on their high-speed platforms.
"Bandwidth costs and capacity costs are rising faster than subscriber growth, because peer-to-peer traffic is growing so dramatically," said Ellacoya CEO Ron Sege.
A year ago, peer-to-peer interactions made up 30 percent to 40 percent of all Internet traffic, said Sege, but today that number stands at 50 percent to 70 percent. Cable operators can get a handle on aggregate-usage data, he added, but not on what's happening in individual homes.
Some 10 percent of the users soak up about 80 percent of the upstream bandwidth and 70 percent of the downstream bandwidth, he said.
Ellacoya offers operators a switch and software package that can track high-speed bandwidth usage and offer tiered- or usage-based services. The software allows MSOs to restrict traffic by time of day or prioritize traffic by service. Operators can even set rate limits on bandwidth hogs as a stopgap measure.
MSOs could move peer-to-peer traffic to the middle of the night and away from the prime hours of 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., Sege said.
Ellacoya's IP Service Control system, which incorporates switch and service logic software, costs $45,000 per box, Sege said. The switch typically sits in the data path between the access router and the Internet, Sege said, but it may migrate into the network as time passes.
The software sits in the network-control center and collects data on usage, both in individual homes and across the system.
Many broadband providers don't realize they have a peer-to-peer problem, said Sege, but they find out they do when electronic-mail users and Web surfers call MSOs during primetime to complain about slow response.
"We identify traffic patterns and allow active control of those traffic patterns," Sege said. "We can identify what applications are using what resources.
"How do you know which users are going Morpheus-happy?" he asked. "You want to be able to manage applications on your network depending on topology and usage patterns."
"We actively manage the congestion points today with network traffic control, and that leads to tiered and usage-based billing," said Sege.
Testing in 12 systems
Ellacoya is testing its software in 12 systems, a mix of large and small cable operators, overbuilders and utility companies that offer cable services, water and electric power.
Using Ellacoya's switches and software, said Sege, a service provider could set aside a certain amount of bandwidth for all peer-to-peer traffic — 10 megabits per second, for instance. Individual peer-to-peer users may not see much difference, especially if they choose to download a movie, then go to bed while the file is downloaded overnight.
"Any one user isn't likely to notice a difference in performance," Sege said. "The idea is to introduce fairness into the network."
Cedar Falls Utilities in Cedar Falls, Iowa — which provides DOCSIS-based high-speed-data service — installed Ellacoya's equipment earlier this year, Sege said. The utility lowered broadband usage by 12 mbps, saving more than $3,300 a month using the company's switch and software, he added.
CFU also is looking at offering usage-based services, Sege said. And another cable operator is looking to roll out a broadband e-mail-only plan for about $5 more than dial-up service, he added.
Sege said the Ellacoya switch has 2 gigabits per second of aggregate capacity and operates at 1.5 million packets per second.
"If we were doing tiered and usage-based billing, we can support 16,000 subscribers with one switch," Sege said.
Most cable operators aren't looking to offer usage-based services until next year, in Sege's view. "They want to get it right first," he said.