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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Great example of a mashup creating a network-policy failure

A very quick post.

I've got the My Vodafone application downloaded onto my iPhone. To the basic function of reporting usage against data/voice/caps (which works only sporadically anyway), they have now added a WiFi finder, presumably to encourage use of the BT Openzone option that's bundled into the package. The finder part of the app helps you locate your nearest hotspot, so you can get online - and implicitly, so Vodafone can benefit from offloading your data.

However, there's an amusing little "gotcha" hidden away in the terms:

"Access to the My Account part of this app is not chargeable. However, if you use the WiFi Finder section, it will access Google Maps, which will fall into the same category of data usage as accessing Facebook or Twitter, and you will be charged for data usage"

In other words, you have to pay extra, in order to help Vodafone offload traffic. (Separately, the VF app also wants me to download a configuration file of some sort for WiFi. Not a chance, as I don't trust it to mess up the settings for my BT-Fon and Onavo connectivity clients. WiFi Neutrality rules....)

As I've said numerous times before, web mashups fit exceptionally badly with DPI and application-specific policy or charging approaches. Vodafone can't even zero-rate its own application - either because the policy engine can't distinguish which device-side app that a particular Maps session appears in, or because it can't/won't pass that information back from the app to the billing system.

And even if it could zero-rate that bit of maps usage, it would then have to hack the application and it use of the Google API, to stop users just using the WiFi finder version of Maps as a general navigation application.

This goes along with another example I'm using at the moment - Facebook can now render web pages inside the app and also keep YouTube videos within that window as well - still with the blue Facebook bar across the top of the screen. So when the mythical "Facebook data plan" gets launched, will I still be able to watch the embedded videos? Especially if FB puts up its own video streaming service at some point in the future?


David Chambers said...


You've clearly identified a hole that needs to be plugged somehow.

Just wondered if you thought that a VPN approach might solve this problem. For example, "trusted apps" that the operator wants to treat differently/zero-rate could use a VPN tunnel to shepherd all the related traffic through (including to 3rd party sites like googlemaps). Might need a little bit more smarts in the apps (to open the VPN) plus something to connect to in the network, but perhaps easier to engineer than trying to decode/manage this as it stands.

Time to buy more shares in security gateway vendors perhaps?

Dean Bubley said...

Yes, that could work perhaps. Do all the mashups on the server side & just push it through the connection. Not sure how that fits with the GMaps API and terms though.

Also, with a multitasking phone, that could mean 10+ simultaneous VPN connections, I guess, which could cause issues.

Also very heavily dependent on there being no app-to-app connectivity via the OS on the device in future releases.

May also be some headaches about where the VPN terminates exactly - for example if it's "north" of normal CDN injection points / offload points etc.


Dean Bubley said...

... and you'd still have the problem that people would just use the free WiFi Finder client's map, instead of the normal [paid] GMaps app, and so you'd end up just providing a conduit for free content.

Doug said...


You indicate "Vodafone can't even zero-rate its own application - ... or because it can't/won't pass that information back from the app to the billing system."

What do you see as the bearers to offering APIs enabling zero rating of flows? Perhaps turning that API access into Rx that maps to a particular rating group (or Rx-like interface directly to the OCS)?