Broadband Forum Calls For Quality Standard

A new software agent could be the silver bullet that provides end-to-end quality of service for content delivery on the Internet.

A new software agent could be the silver bullet that provides end-to-end quality of service for content delivery on the Internet.

The Broadband Content Delivery Forum, which represents the efforts of 60 companies including Lucent Technologies and Sprint to make content distribution over public and private data networks more efficient, was set to unveil the concept today.

Laid out by the BCDs Technology Work Group, the proposal centers around creating a software agent that would control the availability of different networks involved in content delivery and would pick different paths for different content, based on congestion and processing capacity. The new technology has been dubbed Primary Policy Control Vehicle and is expected to work on top of existing network-layer quality-of-service (QOS) protocols.

"You guarantee end-to-end quality by adding up what you can guarantee across the various segments," said Wil Walkoe, co-chairman of the BCD Forums Technology Work Group and Sprints director of corporate strategy and development. "The segments have their own tools for managing things."

The tools in question are not commercial software packages popular with service providers monitoring their networks, like Micromuses Netcool. BCD engineers look more to core network protocols to provide reliable information about network availability. Some of the protocols being considered are Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification 1.1 and 2.0, which govern cable modem systems, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers 802.1 P/Q, which runs switched Ethernet, and QOS built into Asynchronous Transfer Mode.

While the business model for implementation of this technology - once it is developed - remains murky, the role of the main contractor running the agent would be maintaining a registry of protocol information.

Should Primary Policy Control Vehicle get built and be implemented in a successful business venture, data network users would be polling all of the networks involved in a specific transaction every time they choose to go to a Web site, download a movie or use e-mail. Details like who is going to get this information from the user remain uncertain, but the end game is clear: Implementation of the end-to-end QOS standard on all networks - willingly or unwillingly - would support such "smart" services as premium movie streaming. Users paying higher prices to watch quality streams would, in effect, be buying better bandwidth through a complex system of billing and financial settlements.

"The application will be mapped by the [Primary Policy Control Vehicle] software to one of the categories - like whether it is something that needs low delay, low bandwidth and so on - and that information about the type of application goes to the server; the information about the device that I am using goes to the server as well," said Michael Vernick, co-chairman of the BCD Forums Technology Work Group and a principal researcher at Lucent Technologies Bell Labs. "The last piece of the information is brought by the content that I am accessing. Then the agent would compile the information on the service that we need and present signal requirements to each of the guys along the line."

Efforts similar to BCDs work are being carried out by Cisco Systems Content Alliance and Digital Islands (now owned by Cable & Wireless) Content Bridge, but neither group aims to solve the QOS quagmire on the network protocol level.

Still, it might be years before BCDs end-to-end protocol initiative becomes a standard. BCD plans to submit its proposal to various standards bodies by the end of the year and doesnt expect any results before the end of 2002.

BCD members like content distribution vendor InfoLibria are not factoring the emergence of Primary Policy Control Vehicle into their business plans.

"I know there is often excitement in the technical ranks because we are always on the cusp of something that is going to change the world tomorrow, and I think this is an example of something that there will be considerable energies invested into, but I still think we are a number of years away of this making a serious difference," said John Nicol, InfoLibrias chief technology officer. "I think our business, the business of the caching industry, will change, but that is just one factor of many that could create that kind of change. I think economic conditions would have a much more significant bearing on our business and what we do strategically."