Peer-to-peer file sharing is still growing, but streaming video and other download services are making up an increasing proportion of Internet traffic, according to new research.
The data suggests that Internet users are looking at alternative ways to download or view content, other than solely using BitTorrent or other P-to-P systems, said Klaus Mochalski, CEO of iPoque, which makes equipment for ISPs to manage network traffic.
IPoque gathered its data from eight ISPs in eight regions in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, South America and Australia that use its traffic management equipment, covering about 1.1 million users including three universities. IPoque's traffic management equipment uses so-called DPI (deep-packet inspection) techniques to identity network traffic using around 100 different protocols. The data was anonymised, iPoque said.
P-to-P file sharing still comprises between 43 to 70 percent of Internet traffic, varying by region and depending on the quality of the Internet connection. Some of the most popular systems and protocols include BitTorrent, which is indexed by search engines and trackers such as The Pirate Bay. Also popular are eDonkey, Gnutella and Ares.
In Eastern Europe, P-to-P made up about 83.4 percent of traffic in 2007; by 2008 and early 2009, that had fallen to 69.9 percent. In Southwestern Europe, P-to-P went from 63.9 percent in 2007 to 54.4 percent for iPoque's latest study.
The share of P-to-P dropped the most in Germany, which had a 24 percent decline. Mochalski said the drop is likely in part due to aggressive legal actions by the entertainment industry in that country to stop users from uploading content under copyright.
IPoque found a resurgence in the use of Usenet, a system that dates back to the late 1970s that spawned threaded group discussions over the Internet called newsgroups.
Files can also be posted on Usenet's distributed servers. File sharers have turned to using them as they offer a somewhat greater degree of safety when moving files under copyright, Mochalski said.
"The probability of being caught by these investigations is much lower than peer-to-peer," he said.
Companies such as Aviteo also offer subscription services that enable content from Usenet to be downloaded faster.
Mochalski cautioned that iPoque's study looked at overall network traffic and didn't track specifically an absolute volume of P-to-P traffic. However, it appears that P-to-P traffic overall continues to grow, but that it is outpaced by other traffic, he said.
"What P-to-P lost in growth is now going to streaming and file-hosting sites," Mochalski said.
One reason is that ISPs are frequently implementing traffic management technology that can slow down certain P-to-P protocols in order to reduce strain on their networks, Mochalski said. Those slower download speeds means some users are migrating to other services where they can get faster downloads.
Users are turning to services such as RapidShare and MegaUpload, which let them upload a file and then share a link, called a direct download link, in e-mails and web forums. Most sites offer a free service with limits and subscriptions that allow more frequent downloads.
Also, rich websites offering streaming Flash videos continue to increase in number, iPoque found. Since a streaming Flash video plays through a web browser, it's an easier option for users since they don't have to install a separate downloading program. Also, there's a reduced risk of mistakenly downloading spyware and malware on riskier P-to-P networks, iPoque said.
IPoque's study found that Flash comprised more than 60 percent of all streaming videos. For the eight regions iPoque covered, streaming media protocols made up between a low of 4.6 percent of all Internet traffic in the Middle East to a high of 10.1 percent in Southwestern Europe.
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