What snail mail tells us about Quality of Service

By on 30 Apr 2015

Category: Tech matters

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Image source: Snail Mail Terminal by Vicki & Chuck Rogers, cropped.

Australia Post, the Australian national postal service, is implementing a change to delivery service in the near future.  The current delivery service will be called ‘regular’ mail, but will take an additional two days to be delivered, over the current two day maximum.  A new delivery option for ‘priority’ mail will be introduced, providing delivery at the current service level.

This is an exemplary implementation of Quality of Service for a carriage operator, and I would like to take the time to walk through some of the attributes of this implementation, and relate them to QoS on data networks.

The most obvious aspect of this change is that there are now two service levels, one a premium service.  However, in order to be able to have the premium service be in some measurable sense better, this particular carrier had to degrade their regular service.  That’s not a necessary step to introducing QoS, of course, as one could deploy new capacity or a new technology which enables faster service.  If the carriage system doesn’t change, however, it is necessary to slow down or discard some traffic to allow the premium traffic to move faster.

The other aspect I’d like to highlight is that this Quality of Service implementation is that Australia Post never opens your mail.  They determine whether it’s premium or regular based on the envelope: if you pay for premium, you get premium.  Even if you’re just mailing blank sheets of paper around, Australia Post isn’t going to make a value judgement on your behalf, they’ll let you determine it, and charge accordingly.

Likewise, carriers don’t need to inspect packets to determine the value of the contents.  The originator of packets can choose whether they’re premium or regular packets, and the carrier can charge appropriately.  Any other model both violates privacy by reading the contents of the letter, and relocates the judgement of worthiness of communications from the communicators, to the carriers.

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