Verizon's threat to throttle speeds of heavy data users could be empty

Flash Networks exec suggests American users wouldn't stand for it

BARCELONA - Verizon Wireless ignited a small firestorm earlier this month when it warned it would throttle back data speeds of the 5% of users who use the most bandwidth.

Verizon hasn't elaborated on how it plans to implement the throttling, provoking concerns by customers concerned about how it could affect them.

Some users, for example, have wondered whether a single heavy episode for one hour of sharing videos peer-to-peer could result in Verizon cutting bandwidth for that user. And they note that it isn't clear how much slower the network speeds would be for affected Verizon Wireless heavy users.

Any reduction of network bandwidth could interrupt a video stream, leading to delays and buffering that users might not want, experts have noted.

Some have theorized that Verizon's announcement was just a warning, and won't actually result in data throttling, partly because customers in the U.S. wouldn't stand for it.

"I am not sure Verizon will really apply [the warning]. Throttling video would kill the user experience," said Merav Bahat, vice president of marketing for Flash Networks, a vendor of software used by 45 carriers globally, including Verizon, to optimize cellular network quality.

The company is based in Israel and Bahat spoke in an interview on the eve of the launch of the Mobile World Congress here.

Because of the political environment in the U.S. over the net neutrality debate, she said that major U.S. carriers are sensitive to making waves and provoking customer anger. "Americans would scream too loudly" if throttling was started, she predicted.

The U.S. has more wireless competition than most other nations with four major carriers who want to keep their customers rather than lost them to competitors, she added.

She noted that some wireless carriers in other countries, including Spain and Russia, are currently throttling wireless data networks. She didn't name those carriers.

Part of Bahat's prediction for Verizon is based on how the carrier is already deploying Flash Networks' optimization software to monitor and improve wireless cellular traffic. The software uses complex compression algorithms and other techniques to reduce network traffic by up to 40%, she claimed.

That kind of reduction can help solve the congestion an operator like Verizon Wireless can face when new devices such as the iPhone are added to the network, Bahat said.

Flash Networks also has created parental control tools for carriers to implement on their networks and is working on a toolbar to help mobile device customers Web browse to their favorite sites, she said.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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