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Is P2P Traffic Declining?

October 17, 2009

Wired recently published an article, based on the analysis of traffic from 110 different ISPs over on nearly 3,000 routers, for a total of 264 exabytes of traffic – and the article concluded that p2p traffic globally was on  the decline:

Rising from the ashes in the early 2000s of banned services like Napster, P2P soon became demonized as an imminent threat to software industry, Hollywood and the internet’s backbone, prompting high-profile piracy trials, federal government hearings on traffic management and hand-wringing from ISPs who said torrents of illicit traffic would overwhelm the net. But peer-to-peer file sharing is falling out of favor quickly, according a new report from Arbor Networks, a network-management firm used by more than 70 percent of the world’s top ISPs. Falling out of favor so fast that the report declares that P2P is dead to ISPs.

“Globally P2P is declining and it is declining quickly,” said Craig Labovitz, the chief scientist at Arbor Networks, in a preview of a paper of findings from data collected by Arbor Networks from its customers. … In fact, according to its sensors, peer-to-peer traffic still accounts for about 18 percent of all traffic. (That’s by looking at packets — by protocol, P2P fell to less than one percent of traffic, but file sharing applications mask themselves in order to evade technical blocks.) But compare that to 2007, when peer-to-peer peaked as high as 40 percent of net traffic, according to Labovitz.

But is this the case?  First off I think it is important to note that measuring p2p traffic accurately is very difficult.  For example Bolla et al (2008) reported that failing to distinguish between arrival times, durations, volumes and average packet sizes of P2P conversations in the statistical analysis can lead to misleading results.  The tool being used for this research is a proprietary system and as such it is difficult to know if such issues are at play.

Secondly the article is also a little vague about the context in which this is set; a decline in percentage is not the same as a decline in usage – if the overall numbers are growing also.  Commentator Mark Goldberg notes this issue;

But, in reality, there was no drop in P2P traffic reported in either the study or the Wired article. The article spoke of a drop in the proportion of total internet traffic, with P2P file sharing dropping from 40% in 2007 to 18% today. To look at P2P traffic totals, you need to see what total internet traffic was doing in that 2 year period. According to a recent report on a Telegeography release, total internet traffic is up 188% (up 79% in 2009 and 61% in 2008). As a result, total P2P traffic appears to have actually increased 25% in the 2 year period – hardly a “big drop”.

That said, in some senses it would be no surprise to find that p2p traffic was declining – as there are some easier to use alternatives, especailly for music (e.g Spotify), now appearing.  However whether or not this equates to a drop in peer-sharing of digital content is another thing.  The huge rise in streaming (as well at its growing ease and ubiquity though services such as Jango) coupled with the rise in both the number of connected devices (PC, netbooks, smart phones) , the number of methods (sharing via remote hardrives, encrypted p2p, dark nets) and the drop in the cost of storage, all means that it would be very hard to suggest that any decline in p2p software was mirrored by a decline in peer-sharing.

(First publised on the p2p foundation blog)

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