Could P2P Save the Internet?

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That’s what Wade Roush, writing for the MIT Technology Review, argues in this piece about peer-to-peer technology. And not only should distributors get on board, but network operators may want to embrace it, too. Considering how much more efficiently it distributes large amounts of data, it’s likely become as core a component to networking as data compression and encryption.

While content distributors are starting to get it, and a number of legitimate P2P business models have emerged, what’s got the carriers worried is the sheer volume — estimated anywhere from 30 percent to 60 percent of all Internet traffic — of P2P traffic.

Hui Zhang, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University who studies broadband networks, says that “2006 will be remembered as the year of Internet video. Consumers have shown that they basically want unlimited access to the content owners’ video. But what if the entire Internet gets swamped in video traffic?”

Just as video compression advances like DivX have revolutionized video delivery, so will peer-to-peer sharing. What’s interesting is that of all the keys to web content delivery, DRM is the furthest behind. Even Bill Gates thinks it’s “too complicated.”

BitTorrent has already legitimized its business, and is now leveraging that legitimacy to do real business. And Google crossed the Pacific to get behind a Chinese company working on delivering P2P TV. From beast to beauty, carriers should be taking a long look at how they handle peer-to-peer packets.

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The Internet, (its infrastructure and most of the software created for it; browsers, media players, email, IM etc.) was never designed with the thought that it would move video in the way traditional cable networks do. 2006 showed that consumers want it to. That’s really exciting but the sheer mass of data being thrust onto existing pipes is daunting to say the least. Many have written about video killing the Internet, I say it will force it into its most significant evolution in a decade. Basic principles of IP are being re-thought by some of our brightest minds, and P2P is taking up central real estate on those whiteboards.

The question is not “could p2p save the Interne?”, its how specifically will it? As a rush of new p2p startups crop up (as they did in early 2000), platform standards are going to be critical to our progress. Its great to see P2P finally getting the attention it deserves as a fundamentally necessary technology.

(Disclosure: As a founder of Pando Networks, a p2p platform, my perspective is undoubtedly biased.)

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