A Qwest for Growth

Carrier Qwest is looking to expand its presence by investing in network management. CTO Pieter Poll discusses Qwest's strategic plans in this eWEEK interview.

As vice president and chief technology officer at Qwest, Pieter Poll faces the challenge of moving the carrier with a 14-state footprint into the competitive fray with much larger rivals such as AT&T and Verizon.

A veteran of AT&T's Bell Labs, where he helped develop the network evolution plans for the AT&T long-distance network, Poll joined the former U.S. West Advanced Technologies organization in 1994 to develop switching and network intelligence evolution plans. After a brief stint at Mahi Networks, Poll rejoined Qwest in 2004. eWEEK Senior Writer Roy Mark recently talked with Poll about Qwest's strategic plans.

Comcast has taken a public and media beating over its handling of peer-to-peer traffic. Is Qwest facing the same sort of P2P problems in network management?

I think all broadband providers are facing problems in terms of handling the growth. It's not an immediate problem, but it's really more of a trend. You look at Internet traffic on our network, and it typically doubles every 15 months. On a per-user basis, each individual user will generate 40 percent more uploads and downloads per year compared with the previous year at essentially the same revenue number.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that we have to bring down the cost of transporting IP 40 percent year over year, or it's like you are in a room and the water level is slowly going up. You only have a finite amount of time.

That said, Qwest would disagree with Comcast that you would address any one specific traffic type. At Qwest, we look at the total 1 percent or so of DSL subscribers that are driving about 20 percent of the total traffic on the network. AT&T's CTO [John Donovan] made a claim a few weeks ago with a number that is almost exactly the same.

It just shows you that it is a typical behavior around the industry. I would expect Comcast's numbers run about the same.

We fundamentally believe we have the right to manage our network, but we do not believe the way to do that is to pick on any one application. If you look at the top users, P2P is a component of that, but you look at people using Web cams on a 24/7 basis or generating Internet multiple radio feeds [and see they] also generate a significant amount of transfer.

To give you a comparison point, the medium usage of Qwest broadband [subscribers] is about 1.5 gigs of transfer per month. Toward the extreme end, we have a customer that is hitting at a terabyte. That shows you the range of what you've got.

So how are you dealing with this growth in network traffic?

There are two things that I'll point out. First of all, Qwest fundamentally believes that those that are toward the higher end [of broadband consumption] are very much showing us how the Internet is going to go. We are not about going in and punishing that customer segment.

What we're doing is investing in growth in our network, and we're doing what we can to make that growth very cost effective. We have an acceptable use policy which states that Qwest reserves the right to manage our network, and by "manage our network" I would say, toward the very top 1 percent, we may choose to take some action. I want to stress this: We are not currently going in and restricting traffic or restricting certain traffic types on our network.

Do you currently have any pricing plans such as usage caps?

We do not have any plans at this point. As I said, we fundamentally-and I think this is in line with what the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] is feeling about broadband networks-reserve our right to manage the network. I think if you look at the growth, it's clear all carriers will have to perform greater levels of management in the future.