Super-sizing your bandwidth

Hungry for more fries? Simple, just "super-size" it for some extra percentage of the original order. It's easy, cost-effective, and your needs will probably be met (let's not worry about the long-term consequences right now).

When your customers are hungry for more bandwidth, their options for meeting their demands are limited. Sure, they could bump up their access pipe, but this is often cost-prohibitive (a much higher percentage than the fast-food example) not to mention nowhere near as instantly gratifying. They could also manage their bandwidth through technologies such as quality of service and traffic prioritization. But what about dynamically expanding and contracting the size of that pipe for specified intervals?

Companies like Mantra, Ellacoya and Redback Networks are beginning to look at models like this, betting that customers will want this option. They're right if the option is packaged well and priced right.

We've already seen one DSL provider, Winfire (which markets FreeDSL), roll out a program to address this issue. With Winfire's Bandwidth on Demand, customers can purchase blocks of time that bump their DSL connection speed to the highest available (limited to 1.5M bit/sec). Simply clicking a button on Winfire's toolbar or visiting the company's Web site for a service upgrade is all the customer has to do.

While Winfire is definitely aimed at consumers, super-sizing bandwidth is also applicable for business users. Even business users tend to spend a majority of their time on relatively low bandwidth applications such as e-mail, downloading portal content, instant messaging, etc. While performance of these applications at lower bandwidth levels is generally acceptable, users tend to judge the overall service by the performance of medium- to high-level bandwidth applications such as Webcasts and streaming media.

So it's in your best interest to provide a service feature supporting bursting to enhance your customer satisfaction (and hopefully retention). Another way to look at this super-sizing, or on-demand bandwidth, is like "bungee bandwidth." For instance, if a user's 512K bit/sec DSL service is bumped to 1024K bit/sec for a short period of time to upgrade software, attend a Webcast seminar, download research, or use a network-based application.

Bungee bandwidth helps you achieve better revenues for your network utilization. Basically, by allowing customers to bump up when needed, and pay for the privilege, you get revenue for each burst of traffic. Customers get the advantage of sizing their service based on normal conditions rather than the ideal, so they achieve better price/performance for the overall service. Plus, they get the satisfaction of instant gratification -- a rare occurrence in today's telecom world. Of course bungee bandwidth can bring back-office headaches, so if it usually takes your organization one year and $1 million to make any changes to the billing or provisioning system, better start now.

This approach will also introduce some uncertainty in your revenue stream and network engineering until some reasonable benchmarks for the frequency of customer super-sizing are established. On one hand, your revenues could increase as users become spoiled and keep hitting the speed button. On the other, especially if priced a bit high, you may be sacrificing some monthly revenues with highly conservative, or frugal, customers.

Bungee bandwidth offers a clever provider a slew of new marketing opportunities, specifically to position you as a hip, with-it provider that knows the latest applications and how to get the best performance for them. Providers need to break the mold and claim a new image. If you don't jump on the "bungee bandwagon" soon, the problems will be solved by another networking layer, and the corresponding dollars will pass you by.

This story, "Super-sizing your bandwidth" was originally published by Network World.

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