So I was reading The Switch this morning, and I saw a post from yesterday by Brian Fung about AT&T not being able to prioritize GETS traffic for emergency responders and the government in national security crises, and I thought I would give them a free solution to this problem. For the full article, here is a link.
For a brief overview, with the current copper lines the phone companies are able to prioritize calls after a cop/firefighter/FBI agent/President of the United States enter a special code in times of great emergency when the phone lines are tied up by people checking on loved ones, or calling 911 to report an obvious emergency. Think the attack on the twin towers, or hurricane katrina (examples in the article). Now that AT&T is proposing expanding their VOIP-over-Fibre phone service UVerse to the rest of the US, they are claiming that the nature of the internet means that they cannot prioritize specific VOIP traffic in the case of an emergency. There could only be 4 possible reasons for this response:
1) Everyone working at AT&T is a moron. Not out of the question
2) They are lying to the US Government in order to shave a few points of margin off their service at the expense of lives. Most likely.
3) They are in fact doing so, but in secret and only for national emergency issues, leaving out first responders. Sneaky.
4) This is 1978 during the DARPA period of the internet. Its not.
Here is a simple solution that I crafted in the shower for a problem many organizations deal with for VOIP and other IP traffic every day. Took 15 minutes and a bit of drawing. Its high level, but based on the principles of Source/Destination IP Prioritization
Basically what this says is that a Priority Phone call user (Firefighter lets say) during an emergency can dial a special pin, which opens up a call to a special VOIP server or or is prioritized on the VOIP system in question. That number is a forwarding number similar to the 1-800 long distance forwarders we all know and loathe. When they get that dial tone, they type in their number and it makes their call to their destination, which can be a special line or a regular line. All prioritized IP traffic based on source and destination. Very easy to do. Here are some links using Cisco gear as a baseline.
This link describes ‘Policy based routing‘ on Cisco IOS devices (routers) that would need to be programmed to prioritize traffic coming to and from the Priority VOIP server.
This link is a little less technical and gives an overview of traffic shaping.
Because UVerse is an IP based routing platfrom it follows the same rules about traffic shaping as other WAN networks. AT&T’s argument is that because all VOIP traffic looks the same to their routers, they cannot differentiate emergency traffic from regular traffic so cannot use traffic shaping to relieve congestion. I have proved in less than an hour with a very crude drawing and a couple of links that it is simply a desire to save money on an emergency destination (which can be a ‘Virtual IP‘ that simply prioritizes routes, or the priorities can be dynamically created as this paper proves).
Basically AT&T does not want to create a separate server to handle emergency traffic, so is unwilling to utilize this solution (or come up with a better one) in order to save on some equipment costs and the man hours required to update their routers with the prioritized routes.
If you think this wouldn’t work, or have an even better solution, tell me in the comments!