Peer-to-peer file sharing applications are taxing the finances of broadband operators, who are struggling to manage the off-network traffic.
That's the main conclusion of a study, titled The effects of P2P on service provider networks, by network management firm Sandvine, which warns P2P activity "threatens to swamp" broadband operators in off-network traffic - a serious problem for operators because it drives up their network access fees.
P2P activity accounts for up to 60 per cent of the total traffic on any service provider network, Sandvine found during its study. Users downloading and uploading files accounts for only a portion of this data traffic. It's the overhead generated by these applications - advertising, searching functions, and other transactions largely transparent to most users - that are the real bandwidth hogs.
Service providers are well-aware that a portion of their subscriber base is eating up (arguably from their perspective) more than its fair share of bandwidth and driving up costs by using P2P clients.
In this context, concerns expressed by some ISPs about acting as a vector for copyright infringement are, largely, a red herring. Cost is the overriding reason why ISPs impose bandwidth caps and otherwise discourage P2P use.
In order to determine the scope and magnitude of P2P bandwidth-hogging, Sandvine developed a set of tools to measure the traffic by protocol type, map patterns of connectivity and determine the impact on service provider profitability.
Marc Morin, chief technology officer of Sandvine, said P2P traffic was identified as something distinct (compared to Web browsing and email) and out-of-the-ordinary by service providers because it created "a kind, and volume, of traffic that they hadn't really provisioned for".
"Peer-to-peer technology ignores the logical topology of service provider networks. P2P clients like KaZaA and the many Gnutellas communicate with other clients in a completely random fashion."
"Generally speaking if you boot up KaZaA this evening on your home PC, you're more likely to connect with users in another country or another continent, than you are to connect with a KaZaA user on your own service provider's network."
That's expensive. So service providers need tools to address the cost and efficiency challenges posed by peer-to-peer activity...such as Sandvine provides.
"File sharing is tremendously popular with broadband subscribers, but unless it's directed along a least-cost network path, P2P traffic will continue to challenge the business model for basic Internet access," Morin explains.
Sandvine's white paper echoes the findings of a recently published University Of Chicago study, Mapping The Gnutella Network (pdf), which details the critical performance implications of the popular Gnutella P2P protocol on service provider networks. ®
The effects of P2P on service provider networks, by Sandvine (registration required)