P4P May Be Coming to a Network Near You

[qi:051]   Several Internet service providers in the U.S. and around the world (including a large Chinese ISP) are currently implementing P4P technologies on their networks to help alleviate congestion caused by peer-to-peer files, and they will soon be joined by other ISPs doing the same. Indeed, P4P efforts that were showcased in August 2008 are taking on more relevance as broadband demand escalates and the FCC tries to regulate the principles by which carriers can deal with congestion on their networks.

In the August 2008 tests, which were performed by Comcast, Verizon, Yale and Pando Networks, users reported seeing see an 80 percent improvement in speed for P2P files using the technology, while it reduced traffic on the ISP network by 34 percent. That’s nothing to scoff at considering P2P traffic still accounts for 38 percent of global Internet traffic. So after more than a year of relative quiet, I checked in to see where the much-vaunted P4P efforts currently are.

The good news is that P4P is alive and well and several researchers and ISPs are testing its use for P2P downloads such as BitTorrent as well as for P2P streaming, which could help alleviate two of the largest anticipated sources of congestion on the web.  Some popular P2P streaming applications consumers may have encountered are Spotify, the UK music service, and Octoshape, the company that streamed the Obama inauguration and still works with CNN.

The P4P standards-setting process is still underway at the IETF (the topic will be discussed at a meeting in Hiroshima this week) so there’s no official P4P protocol to report on yet, but we’re “halfway through a 2-3-year process,” said Marty Lafferty, the CEO of the Distributed Computing Industry Association, which works with the P4P working group.

The lack of an industry standard isn’t stopping anyone from testing out P4P technology in their own networks, however. Robert Levitan, CEO of Pando Networks, which participated in the August trials, says companies are already coming to Pando to implement P4P-like technologies. One large U.S. and one international ISP are using P4P technology commercially on their networks, he said, and a Chinese ISP is testing it as well. However, the technology has its difficulties, namely how it might be used.

Peer-to-peer file sharing is pretty much code for pirating content, and rights organizations aren’t keen on losing ISPs as an ally in their fight against P2P file-sharing. Another issue is the coming net neutrality debate in the U.S. Lafferty says that ISPs are so focused on fighting these rules that they have little time  to collaborate on solving network congestion problems through technologies such as P4P. There’s also a question as to whether prioritizing P2P files as P4P does would violate future net neutrality principles. However, at a time when network congestion is already a topic of federal debate, getting more information out about ways to relieve it can only be a good thing.

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