BitTorrent dethroned as the main source of internet’s upstream traffic

Mike Powers
BitTorrent dethroned as the main source of internet’s upstream traffic

Dethroned king: Originally created by programmer Brian Cohen in 2001, BitTorrent provided an extremely effective peer-to-peer (P2P) protocol for sending files and other digital content over the internet. These days, the technology is not the data-sharing powerhouse it once was just a few years ago.

While internet traffic continues to grow at an accelerated pace, BitTorrent has seemingly ceased to contribute a substantial portion of upstream data sources. Canadian network intelligence company Sandvine recently released its latest report on “internet phenomena,” highlighting significant changes in the network traffic market.

Twenty years ago, before the Web 2.0 revolution, BitTorrent seemingly generated around 35 percent of all internet traffic. File sharing and peer-to-peer applications were the main drivers of data traffic then, as there were no other potential sources that could generate a similar amount of traffic.

Today, the internet is a very different place. Video streaming and social services such as YouTube, Netflix, and TikTok now dominate global internet traffic, and most piracy-related activities have shifted from P2P networks to streaming websites as well. While BitTorrent has been replaced as the main source of internet downloads, it was still contributing its fair share of upstream traffic.

In 2013, BitTorrent still accounted for a third of all upload traffic on the internet. Two years ago, it amounted to 10 percent of upstream traffic. Now, according to Sandvine’s latest intelligence data, the BitTorrent protocol has lost all its appeal among internet users. The top 10 upstream data sources are now mostly related to cloud storage, messaging, and video streaming, the Canadian company said, with video and social media monopolizing more than half of all upstream traffic on both fixed and mobile broadband connections.

BitTorrent still plays a role within fixed access networks, where the file-sharing protocol now accounts for four percent of all upstream bandwidth. However, services like iCloud and YouTube generate much more traffic compared to Bram Cohen’s network.

Sandvine stated that BitTorrent can still be considered a “significant factor” in traffic generation due to the relatively small number of people using the network. Piracy is likely the main driver here, but researchers and academic institutions also use the protocol to share vast troves of data.

Sandvine expects that BitTorrent traffic will continue to decline in the future as users increasingly focus on cloud and streaming services as their main sources for content.

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