Internode Blog

Australian Broadband Industry Acronyms and Terms

Friday, February 12th, 2010 by

This is a list of commonly used acronyms in the Australian Broadband Industry (and in most cases, the Broadband Industry in general).

The aim of this post is to provide a glossary that I can refer to from other posts about more specific aspects of the industry and how it works.

I’ll try to fill this out with better explanations and with more terms over time.

Right now the list isn’t (yet) in any sort of rational (alphabetic or category) order. I’m just writing ’em down as they occur to me in the first instance. So this initial approach is just to get the ball rolling.

ISP

Internet Service Provider

CSP

Carriage Service Provider: An Australian term for an organisation offering ‘carriage services’ to the public.

Carrier

Holder of an Australian ational telecommunications carrier license.

This license is needed for an organisation that provides telecommunications services using equipment that it directly deploys to do so (copper cabling, fibre optic cable, radio links, etc), as an alternative to paying another licensed telco to do so.

There are limited exemptions to requiring a carrier license for organisations deploying certain sorts of short range and special purpose links.

For example (and, long story short) a carrier license isn’t needed to offer a WiFi based wireless hotspot to the public, or to operate a wireless hotspot in home or office environments.

Class License

All use of radio transmitters in Australia requires a license to do so. There are various sorts of licenses available for particular purposes.

A ‘class license’ is a specific, very important, type of radio frequency license.

This is a spectrum license which is created and deemed to apply to all uses of a specific sort of radio device for a specified purpose, within a specified band, up to a specified maximum power level, without requiring each individual user of these radios to obtain a separate license from the ACMA to do so.

Such licenses and the radios in them are often (quite incorrectly) referred to as ‘licence free’ radio bands and devices. There is most definitely a (class) license for these radios that is required to legally use them.

Perhaps the most commonly understood one of these deployment modes is WiFi (e.g. 802.11b and its later variants such as 802.11 g and n).

This operates in what are called the ‘ISM’ (Industrial, Scientific and Medical) class licensed bands, the most popular of which is the 2.4Ghz ISM band.

There are strict power limits on the open air use of these bands, and it is those limits that define the legally permitted real world useable range of WiFi.

Its worth appreciating that the very same band (2.4Ghz) is also used by Microwave ovens!

They operate at much higher power levels, but that power is constrained into the oven box by the use of a Faraday Cage so that almost no energy radiates outside of the oven itself (hopefully!).

At 0.1 Watts, a 2.4 Ghz microwave signal can carry your Internet surfing needs across your house as ‘WiFi’.

At 1000 Watts, that being 10,000 times more powerful than a WiFi transmitter, a 2.4 Ghz microwave signal… cooks a chicken.

Class Licenses are (by their nature) used by people who have no idea they require them to use the device.

The Class License in that sense is a pragmatic legal construct whose onus really rests upon the people who sell devices that operate in the band concerned, to ensure the devices they supply obey the class license limits.

Other examples of commonly used Class Licenses include those that license the operation of mobile phones, and the class license that allows the use of low power infra-red transmitters for applications such as infra-red remote controls (yes, these really do need a license, and they have one).

Radio frequency licensing is quite a very complex area, and this barely scratches the surface of it.

If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, start here to find out more about how ACMA manages and licenses radio devices in Australia. If you dig around a bit you can also find the text of all of these Class Licenses, available for download.

DSL

Digital Subscriber Line

ADSL

Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line

SDSL/SHDSL/ESHDSL

Various flavours of Symmetric Digital Subscriber Line

PSTN

Public Switched Telephone Network

POTS

Plain Old Telephone Service. An alternative term to ‘PSTN’

VoIP

Voice over Internet Protocol

Voice over IP means exactly that – your voice sent over the Internet in digital packets.

Here’s a bit of an aside: It turns out that Voice over IP as a technology has been around a lot longer than most people appreciate.

Simon Hackett makes an Internet Voice call in the early 1990's
Simon Hackett makes an Internet Voice call in the early 1990’s

Here is a photograph of me (really), in around 1992, making a phone call from Adelaide to Santa Cruz, California. I was using a handset plugged into an analog to digital converter card installed into a 486 DX66, running pre-standards software that I wrote in the early 1990’s as part of efforts occurring in the IETF at the time to define a standard Internet audio/video protocol for doing this sort of thing.

These days, VoIP appears as commercial service offerings from ISPs (such as NodePhone from Internode) and its a direct alternative to the use of the PSTN (and in many cases, not only works better, but sounds better).

Churn

Believed to be related to how one makes butter, ‘Churn’ refers to the process of moving between service providers, and indicates the tendency for some customers to do so in a repeated or even circular manner over time.

DSLAM

Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexer.

I reckon this acronym was created because it sounds cool (due to the ‘SLAM’ bit).

RIM

Remote Integrated Multiplexer: Telstra terminology for a remote cabinet that extends a copper line network by putting equipment in a remote site and combining (multiplexing) all the customer transmissions (voice and/or data) back over a single path back to the main exchange (“backhaul”).

Backhaul

Generic term for a transmission link that moves (hauls) data from customer access points back to a primary node in a carriers’ network.

If there isn’t enough capacity in this backhaul link, customers attached downstream of this backhaul link can suffer performance problems during busy periods.

CMUX

Telstra terminology for a specific type of DSLAM.

Often mixed up with ‘RIM’ – they’re strictly different, but ‘CMUX in RIM cabinet’ is often shortened to just ‘RIM’.

QoS

Quality of Service: Industry term generally referring to the management of situations where there is more traffic trying to use a network link than the link is capable of carrying during peak times without dropping or delaying some traffic.

This ‘management’ is done, traditionally, by classifying traffic into different types and assigning different relative priorities to those different types of traffic. This in turn leads to different handling of that traffic during periods of link congestion.

To put it another way – while QoS is usually framed as being something that is about generating a high quality outcome for particular traffic, in real terms this is implemented not by deciding who ‘wins’, but by deciding instead who ‘loses’. QoS doesn’t make high priority traffic ‘faster’ – it works by making lower priority traffic slower.

P2P

Peer-to-Peer: General term for applications that share data by involving multiple clients, who share the data multilaterally. This is in contrast to the more traditional data sharing mechanism of client-server, where a server holds data, and multiple clients download (or upload) through that central server.

Prioritisation

A term referring to the differential treatment of traffic flowing over data links when those links are congested. See ‘QoS’.

Shaping

An approach to handling broadband services that exceed their purchased monthly quota, where the download speed of the service concerned is heavily constrained (“shaped”) to a defined low speed for the remainder of the month.

This is an approach that exists as an alternative other treatments of a customer service that has run out of its quota for the month. Other approaches include “hard stop” and charging an excess data rate (in cents per megabyte or otherwise) for data flows beyond the purchased monthly quota.

The advantage of shaping is that is allows the provision of a fixed cost residential broadband service that still provides limited access to Internet services once over quota.

Being ‘shaped’ is not meant to be a pleasant surfing experience – its a signal to the customer that they have run out of paid quota, and the intended outcome if this occurs regularly is that the customer should either moderate their downloading habits to avoid hitting the limit, or move to a higher quota plan.

But even if they do not do so, the key advantage of this approach is the guarantee that the consumer will never receive an unexpected, perhaps very large, ‘excess fee’ at the end of the month.

Internode offers a related feature called ‘data blocks’ that allows its customers to purchase additional blocks of quota ‘on demand’ to add to the monthly base quota, should they require more quota on a transient basis.

Shapping

A curious mis-spelling of ‘Shaping’ that seems to keep on appearing on Whirlpool.

ULL

Unconditioned Local Loop: A reference to a copper pair running from a point of interconnect (typically a telephone company exchange building, sometimes from a RIM) to a customer premises.

In this context ‘Unconditioned’ means that there is no electronics attached to the line to ‘condition’ it (such as equipment to create an audio dial tone or ADSL equipment).

ULL is a Declared Service in Australia.

Access Seekers in Australia can rent access to ULL’s under conditions specified in the Declaration.

The Access Seeker then connects their own equipment to transmit analog (voice) and/or digital (DSL) signals on the line.

There is a formal ACCC process for raising and mediating Access Disputes related to the supply and use of this service by Access Seekers.

Naked DSL

A DSL (broadband) service delivered over ULL, where there is no analog ‘dial tone’ service also supplied.

The ‘Naked’ aspect is a reference to the line having been stripped of the dial tone analog voice service that is traditionally supplied on copper lines.

This is an increasingly popular DSL deployment mode in Australia, driven by an escalating proportion of the population who don’t need, and don’t want, an analog voice service on the same copper line.

Residential Broadband services using this deployment mode are provided to the market by most ISPs except for Telstra, who hasn’t invented it yet.

LSS

Line Sharing Service: This is a reference to a service where a copper line is shared between one carrier (typically Telstra) who provides PSTN service on the line, and another competitive carrier who provides an ADSL service over the same copper line.

The bill for the PSTN service may be issued by a different carrier than the one providing the ADSL service.

LSS is a Declared Service in Australia.

SSS

Spectrum Sharing Service: The Telstra Wholesale product name for the service it supplies in order to satisfy the Declaration for LSS.

Access Seeker

An organisation who desires to pay for, and receive access to, one or more Declared Services in Australia.

Typically but not always an ISP or voice services provider.

ACCC

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

The ACCC exist to operate and prosecute the Trade Practices Act.

If the Australian ‘Trade Practices Act” was a piece of software, the ACCC would be the computer that ran that software.

Access Dispute

When an Access Seeker cannot obtain commercially tenable access conditions to use a Declared Service, the Access Dispute mechanism in the Trade Practices Act is used by the Access Seeker to obtain tenable access.

This process is operated by the ACCC, who mediates between the Access Seeker and the infrastructure owner to determine reasonable access conditions.

In principle an Access Dispute is the last resort when commercial negotiations fail to achieve a fair result for both parties.

In practice, the Access Dispute is almost always required to obtain tenable commercial access, and unfortunately the Access Dispute process is expensive, time consuming and complex. In addition, each Access Seeker must separately raise an Access Dispute – there is no current legal mechanism for the ACCC to take the results of one Access Dispute and offer it proactively to all other interested Access Seekers.

There is a mechanism where the infrastructure owner can proactively offer such an industry-available set of access conditions via an ‘Undertaking’ – unfortunately, due to mis-aligned incentives in the way the Telco act envisaged this working, versus the way that Telstra actually operates, this form of efficiency almost never occurs in practice.

Declared Service

A service deemed to be ‘Declared’ by the ACCC under its telco specific powers in the Trade Practices Act.

Long story short, Declared Services exist because the monopoly owner of telecommunications infrastructure in Australia, Telstra, would otherwise refuse to supply them. If a service is Declared, then a carrier is required to offer it under reasonable terms (sometimes negotiated between Access Seeker and the infrastructure owner, but more commonly determined via an Access Dispute mediated by the ACCC).

A high court case constitutional challenge brought by Telstra (reference to be added later) proved that the access obligations for the use of the Australian copper line network via the delivery of Declared Services are a locked in part of the conditions under which Telstra was privatised.

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