Blame it on the bandwidth

P>ISPs that wish to remain profitable have to start looking for new ways of structuring their services or they may drown in costs of maintaining ever increasing peer-to-peer activity, an Waterloo-based teleco equipment manufacturer warns.

A study published by Sandvine Inc. Thursday, which polled about 20 Canadian and U.S. service providers, found that most ISP’s cite the monopolization of bandwidth by peer-to-peer (P2P) network activity as a major concern and a source of rising operating costs, said Sandvine chief technology officer Marc Morin.

ISPs told Sandvine that peer to peer traffic as a percentage of their overall traffic was increasing rapidly. In fact, it (counted for) anywhere from 40 to 60 per cent of their overall traffic, he said.

“”That was really alarming from our point of view; we didn’t think it was that high,”” he said. “”The first ISP we talked to, we thought that this was an anomaly but the more people we spoke to, the more it seemed to be the norm.””

Bell Sympatico spokesperson Andrew Cole agreed that P2P traffic is putting a crunch on broadband and cited it as one of the reasons the company recently introduced broadband use charges.

“”Even though were talking about a small percentage of people who are using peer-to-peer — who are very high users of bandwidth — there are absolutely costs associated with it for ISPs and that’s why there has been consideration and introduction of bandwidth charges in the industry,”” he said.

The most significant costs, Morin said, are associated with patterns of connectivity for peer-to-peer networks. The study found that nearly all of the P2P activity looked at was between subscribers located on different networks.

“”What’s very interesting is, that it’s more likely that a subscriber in North America is connected to some subscriber in South America or Europe than he is to his neighbour,”” he said. “”We ran a study 10 or 15 different times on a variety of different service providers and under no circumstance other than once was there ever a subscriber connected to another subscriber from the same ISP.””

While the elimination of geographical borders is a central feature of the Internet as a whole, this pattern amongst P2P users means high transit fees for ISPs.

“”When an ISP wants to connect their subscribers to a larger set of subscribers or other ISPs, there is a public peering point that they connect to. Generally they have to pay for that based on the volume of data that they get or contribute to the other peering point,”” Morin said. “”If you look at the ISP business model, it usually has a flat fee rate for the subscribers — $30 for all you can use. Whereas on the back side they have a variable cost for the interconnects.””

In a highly competitive service provider market, Morin pointed out, there isn’t much opportunity to pass the interconnect costs onto their customers, so ISPs are faced with profit margins lean enough to drive smaller operators out of business.

Even though there has been public discomfort with the idea, broadband use charges are a trend in the industry, Cole said, exactly because of the one-size-fits-all billing model’s failure to address issues like this.

Surprisingly, the Sandvine study found that file transfers on peer to peer networks do not account for the majority of P2P-related broadband use. The study cites that the majority of broadband used by these applications is required for protocol chatter with some protocols generating approximately 50 to 150 Kbps of continuous traffic per host PC.

The finding may change the view of broadband charges as being a punitive measure taken by ISPs to curb their file downloads. Cole says the new payment and service structure is just a way for ISPs to offer clients more options.

“”Service is becoming increasingly differentiated to meet needs of customers,”” Cole said. “”We can now offer subscribers Sympatico High-Speed Ultra, which is up to 3 Mbps and with that you get 10GB of bandwidth a month, which is quite considerable,”” he said.

Adjusting business practices to closer reflect the activity patterns of this increasingly important net user group is going to be crucial for any ISP wanting to remain competitive, since it is possible for ISP’s to get around transit fees, Morin said.

“”If you look at a relatively modest or average sized ISP, information the (P2P user) is looking for should actually reside on their network,”” Morin said. “”But because of how we’ve established the network topology of peer-to-peer, it’s likely that they’re not actually getting it from someone from within their own network.””

Morin said ISPs need to effectively and efficiently reduce the disconnect between the logical interconnection between the peer-to-peer clients and the physical topology in the network. That means keeping traffic local if it can be satisfied locally, he said. “”That would dramatically lower the percentage of traffic that is peer to peer going off the ISP’s network.””


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