Cisco buys BroadHop to start prioritizing packets

Cisco Systems(s csco) plans to try its hand at shaping mobile data traffic with a new acquisition. The networking giant revealed on its blog Tuesday that it will buy up policy vendor BroadHop for an undisclosed sum.

Denver-based BroadHop has developed a traffic management and policy server deployed in more than 70 wireline and mobile carrier networks around the world. The technology allows a carrier to develop service tiers based on bandwidth or application. Such a “policy” could take the shape of a simple speed boost – customers who pay more each month could get access to a faster pipe. The reverse is also true: it’s a policy server that’s downgrading your bandwidth when carriers throttle your data connection.

But BroadHop’s technology can be used to create much more sophisticated tiers than merely “fast” or “slow.” Policy could be used to craft video-streaming or VoIP plans, which prioritize video or IP communications packets over all others from the network core all the way up to the airwaves. That traffic could not only be shaped for different service tiers, it could be used to charge different rates for different types of traffic.

It’s that kind of advanced packet prioritization that Cisco seems most interested in, particularly as it mobile carrier customers search for ways to replace their threatened voice and SMS revenue.

BroadHop Cisco Policy ServerIn the Cisco blog post, VP of Corporate Business Development Hilton Romanski said that BroadHop would become part of Cisco’s mobile carrier group and its technology would become the baseline from which Cisco would build a raft of new applications. For instance, Romanski said BroadHop tech could be used to power a mobile video-on-demand service where a customer paying for a movie would find his bandwidth boosted and his video bits prioritized over all other traffic.

Operators like Verizon(s vz)(s vod) and Leap(s leap) are already experimenting with the concept of a “turbo” button on mobile phones, and AT&T(s t) is broaching the delicate subject of having developers foot the bill for their mobile traffic their apps generate. If these concepts ever see the light of day, the policy servers like BroadHop’s are going to become critical elements in the network.

Cisco certainly isn’t the only one who spots this trend. All of the major mobile infrastructure and software vendors have acquired or invested in building up their policy portfolios in the last few years. The most recent is Citrix(s ctxsx), which bought Bytemobile earlier this year.