Home media servers, AUPs, and upstream bandwidth utilization.

I recently purchased a Slingbox Pro, and have set it up so that I can remotely access/control my home HDTV DVR and stream video remotely. My broadband access SP specifically allow home users to run servers, as long as said servers don't cause a problem for the SP infrastructure nor for other users or doing anything illegal; as long as I'm not breaking the law or making problems for others, they don't care.

The Slingbox is pretty cool; when I access it, both the video and audio quality are more than acceptable. It even works well when I access it via EVDO; on average, I'm pulling down about 450kb/sec up to about 580kb/sec over TCP (my home upstream link is a theoretical 768kb/sec, minus overhead; I generally get something pretty close to that).

What I'm wondering is, do broadband SPs believe that this kind of system will become common enough to make a signficant difference in traffic paterns, and if so, how do they believe it will affect their access infrastructures in terms of capacity, given the typical asymmetries seen in upstream vs. downstream capacity in many broadband access networks? If a user isn't doing something like breaking the law by illegally redistributing copyrighted content, is this sort of activity permitted by your AUPs? If so, would you change your AUPs if you saw a significant shift towards non-infringing upstream content streaming by your broadband access customers? If not, would you consider changing your AUPs in order to allow this sort of upstream content streaming of non-infringing content, with the caveat that users can't caused problems for your infrastructure or for other users, and perhaps with a bandwidth cap?

Would you police down this traffic if you could readily classify it, as many SPs do with P2P applications? Would the fact that this type of traffic doesn't appear to be illegal or infringing in any way lead you to treat it differently than P2P traffic (even though there are many legitimate uses for P2P file-sharing systems, the presumption always seems to be that the majority of P2P traffic is in illegally-redistributed copyrighted content, and thus P2P technologies seem to've acquired a taint of distaste from many quarters, rightly or wrongly).

Also, have you considered running a service like this yourselves, a la VoIP/IPTV?

Vidoeconferencing is somewhat analogous, but in most cases, videoconference calls (things like iChat, Skype videoconferencing, etc.) generally seem to use a less bandwidth than the Slingox, and it seems to me that they will in most cases be of shorter duration than, say, a business traveler who wants to keep up with Lost or 24 and so sits down to stream video from his home A/V system for 45 minutes to an hour at a stretch.

Sorry to ramble, this neat little toy just sparked a few questions, and I figured that some of you are dealing with these kinds of issues already, or are anticipating doing so in the not-so-distant future. Any insight or informed speculation greatly appreciated!

Roland Dobbins wrote:

I recently purchased a Slingbox Pro

It's a neat toy indeed, I would almost run out to get one too was it not
for the cash deficiency. I assume you got your X-mas presents early ? :slight_smile:


What I'm wondering is, do broadband SPs believe that this kind of system
will become common enough to make a signficant difference in traffic
paterns, and if so, how do they believe it will affect their access
infrastructures in terms of capacity...

The fun part is that some ISP's 'restrain' people to use P2P and other
big traffic hogs, but they (at least some :slight_smile: do provide huge NNTP
servers providing large local caches of truly illegal content and most
of them also seem to advertise with "download movies and music, now
faster and faster than all the other competition".
ISP's should not be classifying nor filtering any of the data that one
is transmitting, especially as when they will do that people will simply
start using port 80 or 443 SSL'd for everything to avoid those crap
filters. I wonder when the usage of IPSEC will become more dominant as
that will also nicely equal out any form of discrimination (can't call
it anything else) there.

Filtering default ports like 25 outbound and some other silly
virus-prone things like 137-139/445 etc is okay, BUT provide a way to
disable this easily. A certain Dutch ISP allows doing this using a
webinterface, which is a perfect method and saves on support calls.

That said ISP's should simply have a package saying "50GiB/month costs
XX euros, 100GiB/month costs double" etc. As that covers what their
transits are charging them, nothing more, nothing less. The money then
is to be made from selling a large package to a stupid user who doesn't
use the traffic, or as that above mentioned ISP once said in the
hallways "we have a few folks doing 400Gb/month, but it's only a few and
if we factor in the people doing almost nothing it equals out very well".

Please note my careful putting of 'usual' and 'most' and 'some' all over
the place, it might seem annoying, but that avoids all those nice
responses with "but we don't do that" kind of arguments; there are
fortunately a number of ISP's who simply can't care less what you do as
long as you pay the bills, and that is what they are supposed to be doing.


In the U.S. and Canada, the expectation has been set to an assumption of 'unlimited' bandwdith consumption for a fixed price in the consumer market. AT&T WorldNet helped popularize that model early-on (you can thank or curse Tom Evslin for that, according to your inclinations, heh), and it has become de rigeur for most U.S./Canadian broadband SPs to follow suit.

Which raises a related question of whether North American operators believe that offering value-added services such as placeshifting (which is a familiar enough concept that a significant population of the userbase seem to grasp the idea without a lot of explanation) might prove amenable to metered billing?

Experiences from high-upstream bandwidth ISPs are that if you give customers high upstream bw, they'll use it. One example is one town, half of the customers were on ADSL (8/1 and 24/1 megabit/s) and half were on 10/10 ethernet (in-building CAT5 or fiber converters). Downstream usage of these two populations were equal, with approx 100 kilobit/s average peak usage. The upstream bw usage was approx 50 kilobit/s for the ADSL crowd, but 200 kilobit/s for the ethernet crowd. This is roughly the figures I have heard from others as well.

This is largely from filesharing, and the difference in usage within the population is enormous. Some will average 5-10 kilobit/s over a month, if even that, some will run their upstreams full pretty much 100% of the time.

Customers expect unmetered usage but most ISPs have "normal use" clauses in their AUPs. If customers change their behaviour then I believe that ISPs will start to enforce this towards their biggest bw using users, just to try to prolong the usage of their existing investment (or actually their new investment).

For me this is actually a core problem, not an access problem. The core is getting faster (4x) every 4-5 years or so, but the traffic is increasing faster than that. Also cost for the core isn't really going down in any major fashion, and it can be cheaper per megabit to build a 10G core than to build a core capable of 100G (parallell links) with todays technology.

So to sum up, the upstream problem you're talking about is already here, it's just that instead of using your own PVR box and then sharing that, someone did this somewhere in the world, encoded it into Xvid and then it is shared between end users (illegally). I believe the problem is the same.

Also, trying to limit peoples traffic on L4 information or up is futile and won't work. The only information readily available to us ISPs to do anything with, is L3 information and packet size. So in the future I see AUPs that limit traffic to 100-200G per month actually being enforced, because this will cap the powerusers without affecting most of the major population.

I thought IP transit was mostly paid by "95% percentile highest speed
over 5 minutes" or something like that these days? Meaning that ISP's
costs are maximised if everyone maxes our their line for the same 6%
of the time over the month (even if they don't do anything the rest of
the time), and minimised if the usage pattern were nicely spread out?

Check the AUP and TOS for that EVDO connection - my guess is that by viewing stuff from your Slingbox, you're risking termination of service. I don't have an EVDO connection myself (still toodling along with my Sidekick's GPRS), and part of the reason why is that they have a lot of what I think are unreasonable restrictions on how these services can be used -- this is based on what I've read on the various mailing lists I'm on (Dave Farber's IP, Declan McCullagh's Politech, and Dewayne Hendrick's Dewayne-Net).

I don't know how significant restrictions like this are from a competitive perspective, but my broadband ISP also has a very liberal TOS... and that's one of the reasons I use them. I suspect that as items like the Slingbox become more common, folks will start paying more attention to what they're permitted to do with their upstream bandwidth.


Roland Dobbins wrote:

UK UMTS operator 3 (a Hutchison division) is advertising its so-called X-Series service, which provides “unlimited” data service (plus various lumps of steam telephony) for £25 rising to £40 a month. Skype is being bundled with the devices involved, and here’s the kicker - 3 is offering Slingboxen thrown in for £99 extra.

3 has just begun HSDPA Class 5 upgrades in metro areas (claimed maximum 3.6 Mbits/s) and plans to launch HSUPA in the uplink next spring, with a claimed max of 1.4Mbits/s.

Lionel Elie Mamane writes:

Also, doing fine grained measurements for all your customers (if you have millions of residential users) is a big pain. Yes, it makes sense to only count usage perhaps between 16.00-02.00 or so, but trying to do this in an efficient manner and handle the customer complaint calls might very well be more expensive than actually not doing it at all.

Cost of customer interaction should never be underestimated. The simpler the service, the less things that can go wrong, the less customer service calls you get.

i have been hitting kill on this subject. but i see that good folk are
posting to it. perhaps the best paper so far on broadband utilization
is that of

    Kenjiro Cho, Kensuke Fukuda, Hiroshi Esaki, & Akira Kato.
    "The Impact and Implications of the Growth in Residential
    User-to-User Traffic."
    SIGCOMM2006, pp207-218. Pisa, Italy. September 2006.

as it is based on measurements in a country with more advanced broadband
deployment than the united states, where the carriers just promise it to
the fcc in order to reinstate a monopoly or very small cartel, it may be
more indicative of out future than our present.


Interesting suite of services and features at a price that makes our domestic wireless broadband look sick... however, look at their AUP:


* Mobile access to Orb or Slingbox does not include using your mobile as a modem. <-- so this isn't true wireless broadband

* When using the internet, you can�t use some websites (including adult websites) and some websites aren�t compatible with all mobiles. <-- so big brother company gets to decide what you can and cannot view

* Fair Use Limit: 1 GB each month <-- it says this right under "Unlimited Data" ... and they'll cut off your access to data till the following month if you don't voluntarily do so yourself, once that's been exceeded

* for some screwy reason (maybe just so they don't have to figure out who is a spammer and not) they limit you to 10,000 Windows Live Messenger messages (like these are going to suck bandwidth), which amounts to 300 a day... reasonable, unless you're a heavy user: that's a message a minute for five hours

* 5,000 minutes of Skype to Skype calls

* Slingbox and Orb usage is limited to 80 hours a month...

... all of these are listed under "Unlimited" usage headers. All of them are subject to being cut off for the month if you exceed them. Did someone change the definition of "Unlimited" in the dictionary?

I'm not saying these are unreasonable limits, but it is rather deceptive to advertise services as "Unlimited" while applying limits that a reasonable person, using them in the fashion intended, could easily exceed (my kids, mobile television, more than eighty hours if I let them, no sweat... yap on IM from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. 7 days a week? you betcha.)

These limitations, applied to services here in the U.S., make wireless broadband access very unattractive to me... even at $60/mo., it'd be doable, except for the restrictions... I spend well over $200/mo. between my company cell, landline/DSL, and the supplementary services associated with each. I'd be totally willing to go out on the bleeding edge, kill my wireline Internet access and my cell services, and go with a pure wireless data/VOIP solution... but not with the restrictions typically placed on them. I want to be able to have my wireless data connection backended to my office and home networks... I want to be able to download ISOs for Linux distributions, and upload AVIs and WMVs to my in house server... I want to be able to run the home media server of my own choice and access it from anywhere. Etc.

I wish someone in the marketplace would emerge to serve folks like me.


Alexander Harrowell wrote:

I saw this paper when it came out Randy, thanks - I had several interrelated questions about TOS/AUP, and whether or not the presumed legality/illegality of a potentially popular non-infringing home media server vs. standard P2P applications (and the jaundiced view of them, rightly or wrongly) would affect what folks are doing or considering doing. The questions were also somewhat specific to North America, which is a substantially different market than the one described in this paper, and which may well evolve differently.

This is a very interesting and thought-provoking paper, but it doesn't answer the questions I was asking, I'm sorry if that wasn't clear.

“Mobile access to Orb or Slingbox does not include using your mobile as
a modem.”

Not sure what that means. They certainly support mobile>usb>pc or datacard use, so it’s not that. Do they mean no Slingbox viewing on a pc attached to a mobile? Why?

Understood - part of what I'm trying to ask (not very well, apparently, heh) is whether presumably non-infringing mechanisms/services such as the Slingbox are viewed and/or would be treated any differently than P2P filesharing apps.

IANAE (I am not an economist), but:

At the Peering BOF in Saint Louis, somebody commented on how when you put a group of network engineers into a room, pretty soon they stop talking about engineering and start talking about economics. There are a whole bunch of factors that go into what it costs to provide a service, which differentiate the costs of upstream versus downstream traffic:

In theory, downstream traffic uses more resources. Given hot potato routing, traffic gets handed off from the sending to the receiving network close to the source, and the receiving network pays the cost of hauling the traffic over a long distance. If we could measure the cost of traffic purely in bits per mile, upstream traffic would be cheap, and downstream traffic would be expensive.

A lot of networks have ratio requirements in their peering policies. If they're receiving more from a peer than they're sending, they threaten to depeer. On the surface, this makes sense. They're receiving traffic and having to pay to carry it, while the other network isn't paying as much to hand off traffic locally. But it leaves content heavy could-be competitors desperate for inbound traffic.

Exchange point ports and private peering cross connects tend to be symmetric. If we ignore the longer distances that inbound traffic has to be hauled, and the resulting increases in required capacity of inter-city backbone links, we can say that the cost of handling inbound traffic has already been covered in the course of handling outbound traffic. There may be one too many "if we ignores" in the previous sentence, but there's enough fiber in the ground between major US cities (as well as to Western Europe and East Asia) that it's pretty affordable.

What's a network desperate for inbound traffic to do? They either risk losing their peering, or they find customers with lots of traffic flowing inbound. When there are lots of networks with this problem, they start competing for the inbound-heavy customers. It's been a couple years since I last shopped for inbound-only bandwidth, but at the time the cost for inbound-only bandwidth in large quantities in major US cities was rapidly approaching zero. This was putting downward pressure on what those who already had balanced ratios could charge, as well.

Inbound bandwidth, while theoretically more resource intensive, was cheap or free. To the extent that the costs weren't just resulting in more debt for the transit providers, the outbound-heavy customers were subsidizing this. This meant big price differentials between outbound and inbound bandwidth.

Then we've got the issues of what gets charged to the users:

In the US, downstream bandwidth doesn't cost much. End user customers are expected to use small amounts of downstream bandwidth. Billing the end users for the bandwidth consumption would cost more than covering the cost of the occasional excessive user. In other words, it is "too cheap to meter." Hosting is a different story. Hosting customers often use enough bandwidth to affect their providers' transit bills, or even to require infrastructure upgrades, and the traffic is almost all upstream, the expensive direction. Hosting is almost always billed by usage.

In some other parts of the world, where the ISPs bear the cost of bringing their inbound and outbound traffic over expensive connections from far away places, the cost model can be quite different. As the costs of transport and transit go up, the costs of dealing with excessive use surpass the cost of metering. There are lots of places where it's common to have separate rates for local and long-distance Internet, with the long distance connectivity being billed per bit.

We keep being able to push more data through the same fiber, and more data through equivalently priced hardware, than previously possible. But I suspect that if traffic patterns were to change and cause the costs of dealing with excessive use by US broadband customers to go up considerably, we'd see the billing systems change to reflect that.