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Summary:

Not a day goes by without someone bemoaning the evils of peer-to-peer networking. This week, however, we came across a set of numbers that show more traditional video sources (streaming and flash video, for example) are now an increasing component of bandwidth on consumer-focused broadband networks.

Not a day goes by without someone bemoaning the evils of peer-to-peer networking, painting visions of a network apocalypse brought on by pimply-faced file stealers. And to make their case, naysayers typically present some hard-to-argue-with stats. This week, however, we came across a set of numbers that show more traditional video sources (streaming and flash video, for example) are now an increasing component of bandwidth on consumer-focused broadband networks.

As part of the research I’m doing for another piece, I had a long conversation with Danny McPherson, CTO of Arbor Networks, which makes all sorts of network-management and traffic-shaping tools. Arbor is used by dozens of ISPs around the planet and, as a result, McPherson is privy to details about traffic flows and usage patterns across many broadband networks.

McPherson shared with me some interesting stats and facts about broadband usage and peer-to-peer networking usage patterns. Given that Arbor makes a living selling its technology and products to carriers, it is prudent to maintain a degree of skepticism about the numbers. That said, they are nevertheless interesting enough to share.


On fixed and mobile broadband networks where consumer services are provided (i.e., NOT interprovider or typical dedicated Internet access for commercial enterprises):

  • 10 percent of subscribers consume 80 percent of bandwidth.
  • 0.5 percent of subscribers consume about 40 percent of total bandwidth
  • 80 percent of subscribers use less than 10 percent of bandwidth

This supports the arguments made by some of the larger ISPs, including Comcast. In a recent interview, Comcast Cable CTO Tony Werner told me his company would try and deal with the tiny number of subscribers who use most of the bandwidth by slowing down their connections during peak times. (Personally, I find that to be a distasteful solution, and I believe that folks should learn from newer ISPs like Free.fr and better architect their networks so they can provide more bandwidth for all — without imposing any penalties.)

The P2P stats are the ones that came as a complete surprise. Like you, I have read many reports that suggest P2P applications account for the majority of the traffic on high-speed networks. But McPherson’s data suggests otherwise:

  • 20 percent of traffic is P2P applications
  • During peak-load times, 70 percent of subscribers use http while 20 percent are using P2P
  • Http still makes up the majority of the total traffic, of which 45 percent is traditional web content that includes text and images. Streaming video and audio content from services like YouTube accounts for nearly 50 percent of the http traffic. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone — streaming TV shows from Hulu and videos from YouTube have been on a major upswing, as noted by our colleagues over on NewTeeVee.

So, what do you make of these numbers?

  1. Don’t the usage habits, if anything, show that punishing heavy users isn’t needed? After all, the vast majority of customers (in this case, 80 percent) wouldn’t even know if their connections were being hit by the teenager next door with a BitTorrent client up 24/7. And that remaining 10 percent (those between the very heavy users and the very light) still isn’t likely to notice.

    It’s been my view that carriers continue to threaten caps, throttling, and other measures simply because they want to delay necessary upgrades as long as possible and soak in extra profits. At a certain point, Internet use will be heavy enough that Comcast and its kind won’t have P2P as a justification for slowing down subscribers’ connections.

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  2. P2P is the tool that enables certain behaviours. But what the heck are these super sharers doing? Downloading every film and album ever recorded? And then watching and listening? (And it is downloading as the upload capacity is limited.) Does anyone know a superfilesharer? What’s he like (and it is a he)? Figure out what they are doing with those files and you’ll figure out how to change behaviours.

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  3. Well, many P2P clients actually tunnel their traffic through HTTP. So, some percentage of that HTTP traffic is actually P2P traffic.

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  4. YouTube and other streamers have only been around for a few years and already they are accounting for 50% of the traffic? Wow…video is sapping Internet capacity. And we’re looking at HD video?

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  5. @ Prashanth

    Arbor data suggests that ~12% of this is P2P protocols over tcp/80 and 8% if pure P2P. Hope that clarifies the issue you raised.

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  6. I believe the numbers.

    Telling the carriers to provide more bandwidth doesn’t solve the problem.

    The nature of P2P is the software increases speed to fill whatever capacity is available.

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  7. @ Don Jones

    Don’t overlook the power of caching when talking Video. Everyone pounding the table about the video boom misses the impact a 40G cache in every DSLAM, CMTS headend, and OLT would have. It isn’t tough to implement, which means once it is a problem it will be implemented.

    Wow… I am using twitterspeak. Om- you on twitter? You find it useful? It seems like too much noise to me…

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  8. Pareto rules again. 80/20

    Focus on the 20% to solve your problems.

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  9. [...] Accounts for 40% of Traffic In researching consumer broadband habits, Om picked up some interesting tidbits from Arbor Networks, which manages traffic flow for ISPs around the planet. While Om had expected [...]

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  10. So the answer is….video not P2P! Short HULU.

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