Technology, Thoughts & Trinkets

Touring the digital through type

Tag: early adopters

Some Data on the Skype iPhone Application

SkypePhoneSkype is a polarizing product for telecom operators and customers. It is an application that lets customers abandon their historical phone services in favour of an encrypted Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) communications service that provides ‘free’ calls to computers and cheap rates when making a Skype-to-analogue/cellular phone service. For customers, it extends the choices presented to them and potentially reduces their monthly phone expenses.

The iPhone application for Skype has made headlines as telecom and smartphone manufacturers alike have actively and passively resisted, and ultimately relented, to permitting customers make Skype calls from their iPhones and other mobile devices. Apple has stated that they will not ‘jump through hoops’ to ensure that VoIP applications work through successive operating system updates, and AT&T’s poor data transmission systems likely made them somewhat hesitant to allow another bandwidth-heavy service onto their networks. What really got *me* interested in the Skype iPhone application, as a Canadian, was the following:

  1. Canadian customers can now install Skype on their iPhones;
  2. There was no place on the web that informed Skype users of how much data was consumed by the iPhone application when in use.

It was #2 that was particularly interesting. Canadian consumers tend to have fairly low default bandwidth caps with Rogers, the primary carrier of the iPhone in Canada, at 1GB in the basic iPhone plan. My thought was this: if the iPhone application actually consumed massive amounts of data Rogers would:

  1. Make a killing on the likely data overages as early adopters shifted over to Skype VoIP in favour of Rogers’ own voice services;
  2. If the application actually consumed a large amount of bandwidth, carriers might see it as ‘technically’ needing to be mediated using some system (perhaps deep packet inspection).

I started putting out feelers, and no one knew how much data the application consumed. Rogers claimed they didn’t know, nor did Apple. A contact on Twitter who worked as customer relations for Skype also doesn’t know the amount of data used, and the information was nowhere (that I could find) on the English-written web. Similarly, my international contacts were uncertain about data requirements. Fortunately, after an extended wait, I’ve finally received word from Skype’s customer service desks (my last ditch effort was to submit a support ticket). Here is how the relevant part of the email reads:

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Deep Packet Inspection: What Innovation Will ISPs Encourage?

InnovationAll sorts of nasty things as said about ISPs that use Deep Packet Inspection (DPI). ISPs aren’t investing enough in their networks, they just want to punish early adopters of new technologies, they’re looking to deepen their regulatory powers capacities, or they want to track what their customers do online. ISPs, in turn, tend to insist that P2P applications are causing undue network congestion, and DPI is the only measure presently available to them to alleviate such congestion.

At the moment, the constant focus on P2P over the past few years has resulted in various ‘solutions’ including the development of P4P and the shift to UDP. Unfortunately, the cat and mouse game between groups representing record labels, ISPs (to a limited extent), and end-users has led to conflict that has ensured that most of the time and money is being put into ‘offensive’ and ‘defensive’ technologies and tactics online rather than more extensively into bandwidth-limiting technologies. Offensive technologies include those that enable mass analysis of data- and protocol-types to try and stop or delay particular modes of data sharing. While DPI can be factored into this set of technologies, a multitude of network technologies can just as easily fit into this category. ‘Defensive’ technologies include port randomizers, superior encryption and anonymity techniques, and other techniques that are primarily designed to evade particular analyses of network activity.

I should state up front that I don’t want to make myself out to be a technological determinist; neither ‘offensive’ or ‘defensive’ technologies are in a necessary causal relationship with one another. Many of the ‘offensive’ technologies could have been developed in light of increasingly nuanced viral attacks and spam barrages, to say nothing of the heightening complexity of intrusion attacks and pressures from the copyright lobbies. Similarly, encryption and anonymity technologies would have continued to develop, given that in many nations it is impossible to trust local ISPs or governments.

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