The U.S. has an excellent interstate highway system, but that doesn't matter to a driver stuck behind somebody topping out at 45 miles per hour.
That's an imperfect analogy to the state of the Internet, where the amount of total bandwidth available is great and growing, but where local conditions and lack of advanced prioritization protocols can leave a packet in a time-sensitive VoIP or video stream stuck being one supporting e-mail or IM.
Segregating traffic in a logical manner makes a lot of sense. There is a political angle to this as well, since the tools to manage bandwidth will play a role in enforcing whatever rules and laws emerge from the contentious debate about limiting peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic.
The bottom line is that everyone should expect to hear a lot about bandwidth management as converged applications proliferate. It will be a confusing discussion, as most are when the topics are infused with politics and simultaneously exist in the technical and marketing realms. This is important stuff, however. Bandwidth management tools work at the core of the Internet, in the local-area network (LAN) and in a home or small business.
These efforts employ similar concepts but are, of course, very different animals. This TMC post says that bandwidth management is expected to grow during the next four years to $700 million just among global telephone companies. That's an impressive number. The presentation would have even more compelling if the current value of the market was given and if the number was sourced.
On the technical leel, it should be noted that there is more than one way to address the bandwidth issue. This interesting Network World commentary says that AT&T and Verizon Business offer management services built on application delivery system (ADS) technology from vendors such as Packeteer, Riverbed, Cisco and Juniper.
The writers suggest that U.S. carriers lean toward multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) services -- which they call "less potent" approaches to ADS that work in the Internet cloud -- because challenges of latency and jitter are not as severe in the U.S. (The piece doesn't get into the interesting question of why things are not as bad in the states.) The second half of the article outlines precisely what AT&T and Verizon Business offer.
While the concept is fairly clear -- using the Internet more efficiently will lead to better performance -- implementation is not. This post at No Jitter takes on some of these issues. The blogger says that bandwidth management is not yet well ingrained in the overall network infrastructure. He describes two of the main problems, which are storage of the same information in multiple places and the inability of network maps to keep pace with changes in the network. The bottom line seems to be that there are a good number of tweaks that need to be made to adequately retrofit network management tools onto existing networks.
Bandwidth management is a very big topic. In one sense, it's unfortunate that the term exists, because its simplicity belies the complex and confusing nature of what has to happen in order to effectively divvy up and control bandwidth.