A Killer App for the Internet Service Providers: An Urban Legend or not?

May 7, 2009

in Services,The Blog

 A Killer App for the Internet Service Providers: An Urban Legend or not?

The search for the “killer application” has been haunting the Internet business since the beginning of the broadband era (probably earlier but things got uglier as soon as infrastructure allowed for a variety of choices). ISPs are searching for the killer app, in an attempt to differentiate their offerings from the competition. The preferred choice so far has been the bundling of their standard data services with IP telephony and/or video content purchased from media groups.

However, what ISPs are after is not simply “a” killer app. They are interested in a money making killer-app. This is important. The discussions about it do not clearly acknowledge the fact that the true killer apps in the Internet have never been profitable. Let us go through  some of the greatest inventions and killer applications of the Internet. E-mail is definitely THE killer-app. Web service is also another . Moving closer to the present  day, instant messaging would also qualify as a killer-app. Is twitter, facebook, youtube killer apps? Not really, but how about if you combine them all together? Then you have social networking services (social media), and here’s yet another family of killer-apps.

What do all these have in common?

  • Wide acceptance: they are used by all Internet users, and they are not so hard to configure neither to use.
  • Developed by third parties: they were not invented nor initially implemented by the ISP industry
  • No profits: they do not generate profits (with the exception of some related attempts by social media lately).
  • They all use a minimum set of network resources (which is exactly what makes them broadly available), and require a minimum level of quality of service to run (e-mail delivery is not real-time, web service and instant messaging essentially transfers simple text files and messages, and social networking sites although cool suffer occasionally from periods of unavailability). Voice and low quality video incorporated in instant messaging is probably their most demanding functionality.

So, is there a future for the ISPs? There probably exists and is linked to the specific reasons that prevents advanced services to take off:

  1. Advanced services require high quality of service which can not be provided by ISPs due to the best effort attributes of today’s Internet, and the user’s general disapproval to traffic discrimination.
  2. Infrastructure investments that could enable better quality of service are avoided because ISPs can’t find means to benefit from the enhanced surplus of the service providers that use ISPs’ infrastructure for service delivery.

What if ISPs could empower their users with the ability to choose the service and the preferred quality level? Think about a portal where content and service providers subscribe and make available their services and users who select which service provider to use under which terms and quality expectations for a given time period.

This definitely requires more thought: It is a VPN-per-request service between the user and the service provider that can guarantee bandwidth, latency, even encryption if desired. Does it have all the properties characterizing a killer app? Yes: It can be available to all, easy to configure and use, meaningful (users get something they request), and targets the entire ISP’s subscriber base. Finally, it can generate profits from the users and the providers – in ways depended on the business model.

Current internet technology can support this kind of service. Besides international VPN services has been offered to business customers for years. What is required is tight IT integration with the telecommunications infrastructure, the ability to provide quick response (thus making the “per-request” attribute meaningful), simple and clear pricing schemes, and (possibly) coordination with tier-2 and tier-1 providers to extend the VPN to other ends. There is nothing exotic in this. This type of coordination is already practiced for voice services. ISPs subscribe to upstream providers’ standard, bronze and silver plans for call termination, depending on their preferred quality of service and transfer these plans to their subscribers too.

Related posts:

  1. A Killer-App for the Internet Service Providers – continued – Two business cases
  2. Tele: In Search for the Killer-App
  3. What Fixed-line Broadband Providers can Learn from 3G Success and Failures
  4. A simple e-service for the local communities
  5. News Media Lobby in support of ‘Internet Tax’

  • Anonymous

    For anyone interested in academic research in this area, here are two articles in wrote years ago:

    Middleton, C. A. (2002). Who Needs a ‘Killer App’? Two Perspectives on Content in Residential Broadband Networks. Journal of Research and Practice in Information Technology, 34(2), 67-81.

    Middleton, C. A. (2003). What if There is No Killer Application? An Exploration of a User-Centric Perspective on Broadband. Journal of Information Technology, 18(4), 231-246.

  • BreslowAaron

    Between 2009 and 2010 the web traffic doubled so we are probably going to experience soon some killer application from the big companies on the market. I don't know how the small ones will cope with this, but… this is the future… just waiting to happen.

  • liliag

    No matter what killer application one business will develop, other businesses will soon follow. Anything that attracts attention gets copied or inspires similar products.
    Lilia Gephardt @ email hosting

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