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P4P Will Make 4 a Speedier Net, Profs Say


It's about time...

The broadband problem that has baffled ISP providers for years may be solved by one PhD candidate, two professors, one algorithm and a little thing they call "P4P."

P4P, which stands for Proactive network Provider Participation for P2P, is designed to alleviate some of the problems caused by rampant P2P (peer-to-peer) file sharing provided by services like BitTorrent and Limewire.

The transfer of videos, music and other large files via such services accounts for 40-60 percent of all internet traffic (graph via CacheLogic - now Velocix):

p2p-dominates-internet-traffic-types-graph.jpg

It has caused numerous traffic problems, slowing down the net for everyone and costing ISPs an arm and a leg, driving them to concoct shady solutions like "throttling" - that is, slowing down web speeds for the heaviest users. The FCC, in its ruling against Comcast, declared such practices illegal, but ISPs were still left in the dark as to how to solve the problem.   

P4P may be the answer. The protocol, like P2P, breaks up files into smaller packets, sends them out onto the web, and then reassembles them at their final destination.

P4P "talks" to the ISPs and tells them - without really telling them - where the file swappers are on their network. The protocol then uses the network topology data - the secret "map" that is closely guarded from competitors - to find the best places to route the broken-down packets of information.

The best part is that neither party is privy to any of the information, so P4P facilitates faster transfer speeds without revealing juicy details to either side.

And it's downright speedy: In a test of 600,000 users, data sent using P4P traveled between an average of just two networks to reach its destination, as opposed to around seven with normal file-sharing.

Haiyong Xie, who first proposed the idea of P4P and built the theoretical foundation, presented the scientific paper (pdf) yesterday (Aug. 21) in Seattle.

He collaborated with two professors, Arvind Krishnamurthy of the University of Washington and Richard Yang of Yale, and is now principal researcher of the DCIA P4P Working Group.

Among the core ISP supporters of the project are AT&T and Verizon. Back in April, Verizon conducted tests with New York-based file-sharing startup Pando and observed download improvements of about 200%, but also as high as 600%, writes ArsTechnica.

Industry bad-boy Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Cox Communications - though members - have chosen to stay on the sidelines.

On the P2P side, Limewire, Joost, and BitTorrent are working with Pando, but BitTorrent's CTO Erik Klinker notes that it is just a small step. The real solution, he says, is to create a standard that allows files to travel between networks.

And GigaOm observes that P4P may temporarily alleviate the traffic problem, but in the long run ISPs will have to improve the efficiency of existing protocols and increase the capacity of their networks.

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