A Net Neutrality Infographic

VoIP Supply Infographic in Lenovo X-1-CarbonLast week VoIP Supply has posted an interesting and potentially informative infographic that purports to describe “How Does Net Neutrality Affect VoIP?” The artwork is originally from Visual.ly, created by Gryffin.

While the thrust of the thing is useful, there are a few things about it that put me ill at ease. Like so much of the debate about network neutrality, important subtleties are often misconstrued or simply overlooked.

In particular, here’s the bit that makes me cringe:

How This Affects VoIP

Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology is driven by data packets that are transferred across the web at high speeds from phone to phone.

Now, I am no expert on network neutrality. I come from a SOHO and end-user perspective, which naturally colors my understanding of the subject.  Nonetheless, this assertion is wrong in so many ways that it’s worth examining in detail.

  1. VoIP in it’s classic form has literally nothing to do with the web. Only in the relatively recent past does WebRTC bring VoIP to the world wide web. That’s yet to have any real impact on the world of telecom in a substantive fashion.
  2. VoIP is not driven by the need for high speeds. At 64 kbps for each leg of a G.711/G.722 encoded call, a single VoIP call actually requires very little bandwidth. What it does need is continuous, unbroken, reliable bandwidth, with the lowest latency possible.
  3. Only in rare cases does VoIP flow from phone-to-phone. In fact, it basically never happens that way. There’s always a pile of other stuff in the path between the phones.

Slower Bandwidth Means:

  • Decrease in voice quality
  • More dropped calls
  • Delayed actions
  • Less feature availability
  • Errors in Metadata

Unless you’re considering extremely slow connections, none of those things are the direct result of limited bandwidth. They may result from poor network performance, but speed may not be the issue. Latency, jitter and network variability can be very real problems, perhaps more so than simple throughput.

This is the problem with the entire debate about network neutrality. It’s inherently complicated. That makes the matter extremely difficult to take into a broad public sphere. Most people, myself included, don’t have the attention span to discern the requisite detail amidst all the noise from vociferous parties on both sides, who themselves may not be especially well-informed.

This also impacts the ability of the mainstream media to make any meaningful contribution to the debate. What I have observed is that they seem to contribute to the difficulty in achieving a clear understanding of the topic.

On that same plane of consideration, I suspect that the zillion comments filed with the FCC  in fact degrade the agencies ability to achieve a satisfactory outcome. What is required is a handful of very well-considered opinions from perspectives that encircle the issue. Millions of comments from the relatively uninformed, and I include myself in that group, seems to me to be less than helpful to the process

Incidentally, yesterday I sat in on the monthly Phoneword call hosted by Jay Carpenter. His guests were Martin Geddes and Hank Hultquist, bringing two different, extremely well-informed perspectives on network neutrality. You can watch the recording on YouTube.