New internet protocols will leave operators in the dark

Written by on September 24, 2015 in Opinion with 0 Comments

Glowing in the dark cat eyes black background

It started with a throw away line at a recent analyst lunch. “Of course,” said a prominent analyst, “with speedy, operators are looking into a dark hole.” Those of us in the BSS world smiled intelligently and pretended to know what she meant. What she was actually referring to was ‘SPDY’ – soon to be replaced by HTTP/2.

A bit of Googling went on later that day, and we discovered that SPDY was developed to ‘manipulate HTTP traffic, with particular goals of reducing web page load latency and improving web security.’ This sounded like a good thing, until, triggered by a press release from OpenWave, we dug a little deeper.

It turns out that the real problem for operators is that, according to The Register, SPDY (and its offspring) ‘employs “pointless encryption” even for applications that don’t need it – or, perhaps, are legally banned from using it – while doing little to enhance privacy protections for individuals.’

What this means is that operators cannot ‘see’ what their customers are doing on their networks.

This has several ramifications. First, there are the parental control issues. If an operator cannot see what is travelling over his network he has no way of blocking traffic that is offensive or that parents wish to be blocked. Parents, of course, are not the only people who want to filter content. Governments want – need – to be able to filter content to cut off extremist nonsense influencing people who subsequently commit heinous crimes on innocent people.

Not knowing the content that their customers are consuming, means that operators cannot optimise their networks to deliver appropriate levels of quality to match the needs of the content.

More relevant to our own industry, the ‘darkening’ of the web means that the nirvana we all talk about is beyond our reach. Without the data to apply analytics to, operators are missing a crucial chunk of a picture. They will know where a customer is, what handset he is using, what price plan he is on, when he last updated his device, how old he is and where he lives. Possibly more. But they no longer know what he is doing.

This, added to the other privacy issues triggered by nice Mr Snowden (well, we assume he is nice) makes for terrible headaches for operators trying to get a grip on what their customers really want.

With, according to the OpenWave press release, 60 percent of many operators’ traffic now encrypted and by next year 80 percent, will this leave operators completely in the dark?

It seems so.

It may be that the quality of service issue – which will impact content providers such as Netflix – will push the Digital Service Providers into turning on the lights again, as they will be the ones who get the complaints. Maybe that is wishful thinking and they are happy to have more information on what customers are doing than their operator colleagues, who will have to build a whole new set of lights to have any chance of knowing what is going on.

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Alex Leslie

About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .

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