One of the nation’s largest Internet service providers (ISP), Verizon Communications, is working to make peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing networks more efficient for transferring large files than ever before. In fact, the company is working to encourage a new protocol so that other ISPs and content owners can get in on the speedy sharing action, too.
P2P networks are often associated with music, movie and software piracy, though the technology is often used for legal purposes as well.
Basically, P2P uses many PCs or servers to deliver content — as opposed to a single server that pipes a file directly to an end-user PC. If plumbing and pipes may be used as a metaphor, it’s easy for a mainline pipe to get clogged with traffic when a single server is trying to send data to many PCs at the same time. In a P2P network, however, the data is sent via many smaller pipes that connect end-user PCs — rather than all clogging the mainlines from the server.
Verizon has been testing the new protocol that guides the selection of file sources and network pathways intelligently rather than letting the selection happen randomly or inefficiently, the company said Friday. Verizon has been working with Pando Networks and Yale University software experts as well as the Distributed Computing Industry Association (DCIA), which has sponsored the P4P Working Group, an organization dedicated to tackling Internet bandwidth traffic issues with P2P solutions.
Out of the Dark and Into the Light
A lot of P2P file-sharing these days appears to be of the illegal kind — pirated films, songs and software shared between users via the Internet. P2P file-sharing is hard to police, and while it’s bad enough for content owners, it can sometimes affect non-file-sharing Internet customers too. Typically, rampant file-sharing can suck bandwidth away from legitimate users who are sharing the same connection — often cable-based ISPs — which can slow Internet access for others.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how bad the problem really is, but cable company Comcast is under investigation by the FCC for secretly slowing or temporarily blocking file-sharing traffic in an effort combat the problem.
An ‘Industry Problem’
From Verizon’s perspective, the company seems to see P2P, combined with network mapping cooperation, to be a solution to an industry-wide problem.
“Verizon doesn’t have any concerns about its network — we have headroom — but the demand and the flow of flat videos and the like [are] definitely going to increase,” Jim Smith, a spokesperson for Verizon, told TechNewsWorld.
“That’s the reason our technologists got with the Pando people and Yale to loan them our network mapping information for this test so that we could say, ‘Look, this is an industry problem and it’s going to get to be a problem for a lot of people if we don’t solve it. If we can all process files faster and get the files off the network a little quicker, then everybody’s network that is participating is going to have a little extra headroom,'” he explained.
Because many files transferred today using P2P are so massive, P2P-sharing can account for well beyond half of total Internet traffic, according to industry estimates cited by Verizon. A single HD movie can represent the equivalent traffic of 32,000 Web page views, Smith noted.
Overall, Verizon reported that its testing showed remarkable download speed improvements — its FiOS (fiber optic service) customers using P2P downloads experienced a six-fold increase in speed to download, and on average, download speeds using other Internet access technologies improved by about 60 percent.
Advanced P2P delivery networks don’t have to share pirated content — they can link content-seekers with licensed files they want and that are stored by other subscribed users rather than on servers maintained by content owners or ISPs. NBC Universal, in fact, plans to use a P2P solution supported by Pando Networks to distribute its NBC Direct programming, which should launch this month.
If the online demand for large media files is growing at faster and faster rates, is the move toward a P2P delivery model inevitable?
“I think it’s certainly a logical solution to a lot of the problems,” Mike McGuire, a vice president of research for Gartner, told TechNewsWorld. The old server-to-PC approach isn’t likely going to be able to keep pace with the amount of content, he noted.
“Especially when you consider more viral sharing and moving content around by more active consumers … without some load balancing, it’s clear that we’re going to run into bandwidth problems,” he added. “What you’re seeing is that an ISP is acknowledging that some of these technologies — that have been castigated for a long time — that they might become important to managing legal, big, rich media files,” McGuire said.