Shocking: New Facts About P2P and Broadband Usage

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?

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