A whale of a bad analogy for bandwidth hogs

Of wireless carriers and casinos

Having written my fair share, I know that bad analogies can stick out like a sore flower pot.

Case in point: Businessweek.com has an interesting analysis of the ongoing debate about wireless "bandwidth hogs." In making its case that it is the carriers, not heavy users, who are being piggish, this passage struck me like a harpoon in the side:

Some people do use a lot of data. This month, Cisco Systems reported that the top 1 percent of wireless data customers account for 20 percent of traffic. In any other industry, this market segment would be called "loyal customers." Casinos call them "whales" and give them free hotel rooms and special tables with high limits. Wireless carriers punish their whales.

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Let's see why this analogy washed up on the beach.

Whales, in casino parlance, are the highest of high rollers. They are the super rich who think nothing of dropping a few hundred grand - or a few million dollars - on a single session of their favorite game of chance. The reason casinos give them "free" hotel rooms and lavish extras upon them is not because they are "loyal customers," but because they are - to introduce yet another member of the animal kingdom - cash cows. They don't necessarily show up every weekend, and they may win big once in awhile, but collectively and over time, with gambling being gambling, they are certain to pad the casino's bottom line like no other subset of patrons.

That elderly couple getting off the tour bus while clutching their free-play coupons and cup of quarters are a casino's loyal customers ... but they don't get a hotel room without a credit card.

Bandwidth hogs are more like blackjack card counters: They aren't cheating as you or I might understand the word, but they are violating house terms of service and as such their play is throttled. (I realize that carrier terms aren't being violated now, but, like casinos, carriers are largely allowed to write their own rules; that's why this debate is ongoing). Bandwidth hogs are also like those who load up on shrimp at a casino's all-you-can-eat buffet; the classic analogy.

But, bandwidth hogs could only be to the wireless industry what whales are to casinos if the hogs were willing to pay any price whatsoever to play the game the way they want to play.

Does that sound like your typical bandwidth hog?

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