BEREC

What are specialised services and how are they relevant to the Open Internet Regulation?

What are specialised services and how are they relevant to the Open Internet Regulation?

BEREC uses the term ‘specialised services’ as a short expression for a longer term used in the Open Internet Regulation: “services other than internet access services which are optimised for specific content, applications or services, or a combination thereof, where the optimisation is necessary in order to meet requirements of the content, applications or services for a specific level of quality”.

The BEREC Guidelines provide a few examples of what may be considered specialised services, such as VoLTE (high-quality voice calling on mobile networks) and linear (live) broadcasting IPTV services with specific quality requirements. Other examples would be real-time health services (e.g. remote surgery). BEREC considers such services to be allowed as long as they meet the strict requirements of the Regulation (set out in Article 3(5)).

What is the necessity requirement and how will regulators assess it?

Under the Open Internet Regulation, in order for specialised services to be permitted, they would have to be objectively necessary to meet requirements for a specific level of quality. The BEREC Guidelines recommend that NRAs should assess this ‘necessity requirement’ by first requesting information from providers about their services, and then assessing whether the requirements are met.

When making their assessments, regulators will be particularly interested in technical parameters, such as latency, jitter and packet loss. The requirement does not refer only to standard QoS parameters, but may, for example, also apply to other quality parameters in novel networking paradigms such as machine-to-machine services (M2M). In such cases the devices may be resource-constrained and the provisioning of services in the network may have to deal with issues such as energy exhaustion, interference and security to maintain a specific level of quality.

Taking into account these technical parameters, regulators should assess whether the specific level of quality is objectively necessary and cannot be assured instead over the internet. If the specific level of quality is not necessary, these services would not be allowed. If the service passes this test, regulators will also have to assess the ‘capacity requirement’ described below.

What is the capacity requirement and how will regulators assess it?

As a second major criteria, the Open Internet Regulation allows specialised services to be offered when the network capacity is sufficiently large so that the internet access service is not degraded. To assess the practice, BEREC recommends that regulators request information from ISPs regarding how they are ensuring sufficient capacity and the scale of the specialised service being offered.

The BEREC Guidelines also explain that regulators could assess whether sufficient capacity is provided by performing measurements of the internet access service. Regulators could perform quality measurements with and without specialised services, and then analyse quality metrics such as latency, jitter and packet loss. This analysis should enable NRAs to assess whether the general quality of the internet access is reduced by the provision of specific specialised services.

Can Machine-to-machine services (M2M) be specialised services?

The question regarding what qualifies as a specialised service, and what criteria should be considered to assess this, has become even more relevant due to the public discussion about compatibility between net neutrality and the emerging 5G technologies. The Open Internet Regulation applies on a technologically neutral basis. The goal of the Regulation is to safeguard IAS, and at the same time allow objectively and technically necessary specialised services (SpS) to be provided. This applies to any network technology, and 5G is no exception.

In machine-to-machine services (M2M) cases the devices may be resource-constrained (e.g. limited processing power, battery lifetime and memory capacity) and the provisioning of services in the network may have to deal with issues such as energy exhaustion, interference and security to maintain a specific level of quality. Addressing these issues is essential in order to assure the specific level of quality of the services, and specialised services could be justified in cases where the requirements cannot be fulfilled by the IAS for resource-constrained devices.