Will the End of Net Neutrality Impact Your Enterprise VoIP Solution?

Earlier today the FCC voted to eliminate the restrictions on ISPs to arbitrarily limit Internet traffic. There are a range of arguments on both sides, and there will be court challenges to come for sure, but this should be concerning to those of us using the Internet to carry real-time services. The entire enterprise telecom industry should be concerned right about now.

The rules of Net neutrality limited providers from providing "fast lanes" for some traffic or to arbitrarily throttle other traffic. This meant that our voice and video packets moved through the open Internet with the same priority and service levels (or lack thereof) as everything else. The result has been that ISPs have generally operated their networks with sufficient headroom to enable the majority of video traffic to have reasonable service levels, enabling acceptable real-time carriage.

Eliminating Net neutrality rules may change that. For example, if Netflix contracts with an ISP to deliver its video packets with higher priority, those packets may then be prioritized ahead of the VoIP packets from your service. An ISP like Comcast would be enabled to "slow" packets from a cloud UCaaS provider that does not pay them a premium, or that competes with their bundled business voice services. Or you may be asked to pay a premium for viable voice or video over IP services by your ISP.

For enterprise IT, the concern comes when employees, partners, customers, etc., use your communications services outside your internal network. With Net neutrality, the overall experience of VoIP has been generally good on the network. With these new rules, that may change. And, as VoIP does not really "understand" the IP network, these issues may come up in random ways. For example, an employee telecommuting from home or a hotel may suddenly have terrible voice quality due to restrictions of one or more ISP or interconnects in the IP path. This is a possible reality for hotels, guest workers, hot spots, etc.

New services that are WebRTC-based may be dramatically impacted as well. During a recent webinar, Genesys indicated that 20% of its PureCloud traffic was over WebRTC, not the PSTN. How will the elimination of Net neutrality impact a customer who clicks on the click-to-connect button on your website, and the traffic is now limited by their ISP who sells a phone service and tracks and limits VoIP traffic. Will Genesys negotiate preferential traffic characteristics with a full range of ISPs?

The higher bandwidth required for modern HD-based video conferencing may be even more impacted. If conferencing traffic is relegated to a low priority with general Web video, the quality may be dramatically impacted. Streaming video uses buffering to hide network latency and packet loss, but real-time services do not have any way to really mask significant latency or loss. How will cloud video solutions like Zoom perform if their traffic is impacted?

Enterprise VPNs may have the same issues. China is attempting to block VPNs for censorship, but ISPs may see VPNs as a way to circumvent their data gathering operations and classify all VPN traffic into a low performance class. So, VPNs to remote sites that operate over the open Internet may be adversely impacted unless you negotiate and pay for better carriage.

If the ISPs move to provide the ability to classify traffic so our IP-based real-time services get the SLAs they need to deliver quality communications, all may be well. However, the cost may be significant, both in real dollars and in network and operations complexity. As there are no real QoS-based peering relationships between service providers, purchasing QoS from one ISP may not come with any end-to-end guarantees.

The alternative is the potential for VoIP traffic to be adversely impacted by the new restrictions and preferences that may be ushered in by the end of Net neutrality. We all should be on the lookout for changes that could have major impacts to our entire industry. Every enterprise IT organization should examine how they use the Internet and how the elimination of Net neutrality may impact their operations.

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