FastTrack-based file sharing applications such as KaZaA rule in America but Europeans are increasingly turning to alternatives.
Researchers from network management company Sandvine found FastTrack-based applications still generate more than 76 per cent of all P2P traffic in North America.
But in Europe, end-user preferences tend to vary country-by-country, with FastTrack often playing second fiddle to newer applications like eDonkey, which is particularly popular for trading videos. In Germany, for instance, eDonkey accounts for more than 52 per cent of file sharing traffic against 44 per cent for FastTrack.
Sandvine said its study "debunks" the presumed dominance of FastTrack across the globe.
"The file sharing 'marketplace' is really only a few years old, but it's changing rapidly and we're now seeing measurable divergences along geographic, even national lines." said Chris Colman, EMEA managing director of Sandvine Limited. "In the beginning there was only Napster. Today's file sharing environment is much more fragmented, with a varying proportional mix of current and emerging P2P applications dominating in each region."
The study threw up a number of surprises - not least the "near elimination" of Gnutella-based applications from the P2P file sharing landscape.
"If a wildly popular application like Gnutella can emerge and all but disappear in less than three years, it's certainly possible that FastTrack, too, could one day be headed for history's technology dustbin," says Colman.
And the opposite can also happen. Pioneering file swapping service Napster is making a legal return to business this month. However, while this may be good news for music fans, it is not such a welcome return for Internet Service Providers.
Network management firm P-Cube warns that legal P2P sites too can be a "major headache for service providers".
The effects of P2P traffic force service providers to increase network capacity, and expensive transit links, to prevent network congestion and performance degradation for key applications such as browsing and streaming, according to P-Cube.
P-Cube, like Sandvine, markets technology which helps broadband service providers manage P2P file sharing activity for greater operational efficiencies.
It estimates that 60-70 per cent of European Operators' Bandwidth is consumed by P2P traffic - so it's just as well Napster will launch as a US-only service, at least from the point of view of service providers.
Music fans may beg to differ.
"Most, if not all, of the new 'pay per track' music websites are solely for the US / Canada market and not for us Brits," writes Reg reader Mike Huxley.
"And they wonder why piracy is such an issue," he adds. ®