Bit Mile Balance: Operators Seek a New Standard to Cut Data Traffic Costs

By: James O'Brien| - Leave a comment

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Surging demand for Internet, especially low-latency, high-volume data access for consumers and enterprises, is driving what could become a new industry standard for network operators.

In January 2016, Fierce Telecom reported that Colorado-based Level 3 Communications struck a settlement-free deal to share network interconnections with Google. This is just part of a recent rise in new bit mile balance agreements.

The deal is meant to ensure that each Internet transit and backbone operator is carrying a balanced volume of each other’s data — measured in units called bit miles. It represents a more cost-effective approach to overall operations and last-mile delivery.

Even for IT professionals, however, the workings of the new agreements can raise questions: How does bit mile balance work? Why are transit and backbone operators keen to engage with ISPs and network infrastructure in new ways?

The answer, unsurprisingly, has a lot to do with money. Here’s how bit mile partnerships work and why they’re becoming a focal point for major players in the data traffic space.

Recent History: Last-Mile Costs Rise for Operators

The agreement between Google and Level 3 is one of a number of new relationships that have emerged in recent months. Verizon and Level 3 made a similar deal in early 2015, for example, and Cogent and Verizon shook hands on a comparable arrangement in May of last year.

According to Google, speaking to Data Center Knowledge, moves such as these represent “an emerging standard in interconnect.” This could be particularly true around last-mile delivery.

Historically, the last-mile model that Internet transit providers, backbone operators, ISPs and other players in the data traffic ecosystem have shared is that ISPs agree to carry a certain amount of downloaded data the last mile to end users. In exchange, ISPs get to send uploaded data along the operator’s network. The agreement typically includes an predetermined ratio of download to upload volume, and if one side or the other exceeds the amount of data in the deal, it would pay for the additional volume.

But with end users streaming more and more data-intensive content — the “Netflix effect,” if you will — that arrangement has often left operators paying ISPs for vastly out-of-ratio download activity.

Bit Mile for Better Last-Mile Traffic

The promise packed into new deals such as the Google-Level 3 agreement stands to be a win-win: Backbone operators and transit providers cut costs by sharing their data load across each other’s networks, and customers stand to see buffer delays shrink as data traffic becomes even more efficient.

The following breakdown helps illustrate how that happens:

  • The term bit mile is a unit of measure referring to a quantity of data multiplied by the distance that quantity is carried.
  • In a bit mile balanced ecosystem, such as under the Google-Level 3 model, Operator 1 and Operator 2 agree to share each other’s network interconnections, moving data to end users in ways that minimize costs associated with volume. Each operator calculates the bit miles for in-network data and makes delivery adjustments by routing each other’s data to the most efficient connection points, usually the ones closest to end users.
  • A key goal of the bit mile deal is that both operators cut costs around overall data traffic management, and ideally, they cut the download tolls they have to pay to ISPs when they end up out-of-ratio. They’re moving data to end users in smarter, cooperative, volume-conscious ways.

Level 3 has said the new deal with Google illustrates the strength of a balanced bit mile model.

“We think it’s really good for consumers,” one Level 3 spokesperson told Light Reading. “It’s meaningful as well because Google is obviously a big and very smart company, and for them to say that this bit mile model makes sense and that it’s equitable, we think is a really good validation.”

If data traffic and last-mile costs do fall as a result of these partnerships — and if network operators are satisfied that the arrangement is fair to all participants — then the emerging industry standard for interconnection may well become one of balanced bit miles.

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About The Author

James O'Brien

Freelance Writer

As a journalist and writer in the branded content space, James O'Brien covers business, technology, social media, marketing, film, food, wine, writing and news. The Nieman Journalism Lab has called his work in the custom content space "sponsored content done right." He has written for major regional newspapers, and he has managed and edited established, startup and turnaround newsrooms in varied markets, from community papers to major-city dailies. He consults for firms and businesses — startups to seasoned — on the creation of effective content strategies and the establishment of practical editorial calendars for enacting them. O'Brien holds a Ph.D. in Editorial Studies from the Editorial Institute at Boston University, where he researched and edited Bob Dylan's other-than-song writings. He is engaged in a bibliography for Oxford University Press, covering writings about filmmaker John Cassavetes. He is the author of "The Indie Writer's Survival Guide." His short stories and poetry are published in numerous journals and magazines.

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