How Verizon Wants to Speed Up Your BitTorrent Videos

p4p1.jpgVerizon and Pando will use today’s DCIA conference in New York to release test results of a system aimed at reducing the impact of P2P traffic on ISPs. AP reported about this first, promising that the system will make P2P downloads up to six times faster while at the same time reducing the costs for ISPs. CNet added a few more details about the technology known as “P4P,” including the obvious fact that you really won’t see much higher speeds with a basic DSL line that’s already maxed out by your downloads. FIOS customers, on the other hand, should be able to tell the difference.

P4P is the result of a joint working group that includes P2P companies and ISPs as well as researchers from Yale that have been working on optimizing P2P networks for years. Here’s how it works, and what it means for your torrent downloads:

The basic idea behind P4P is fairly simple: A dedicated server collects network topology data from ISPs and relays the information to P2P networks, optimizing specific transfers. The system is supposedly open to different P2P technology approaches, but it’s clearly designed with BitTorrent in mind.


P4P compared to traditional P2P. Source: DCIA.

BitTorrent uses a so-called tracker server to coordinate downloads of a specific file. A tracker will let you know who else is sharing the file you’re trying to download, and it will keep track of your upload data to make sure you’re contributing to the network. Trackers currently don’t care about the actual location of their users. P4P plans to change this by introducing a second tracker server to the system. This second server, dubbed iTracker, won’t keep track of the actual uploads and downloads, but of the network topology being used to facilitate them.

Let’s say you’re downloading a movie from Vuze’s tracker would first gather the IP addresses of the people sharing the movie and then query the iTracker server to see where these IP addresses are actually located. Are any of them using the same provider or the same backbone infrastructure? iTracker will help to find clients close to each other and get them to swap data within an ISP’s network.

The iTracker server would also know how a certain ISP wants to utilize its network at any given time. A certain link tends to be congested in the evening? iTracker will tell Vuze’s tracker to use a different set of connections for your download. Future iTrackers could be run by ISPs themselves, or by trusted third parties, with Pando’s CTO Laird Popkin suggesting a nonprofit like ARIN as a possible host.

So what will this mean for your Joost streams and Pirate Bay downloads? That depends, in part, on how ISPs will implement the system. Joost doesn’t rely on a tracker architecture, so it may be a while before it can actually make use of something like P4P. ISPs could also decide to set up P4P in a way that makes it impossible for trackers like the one run by The Pirate Bay to access the system, for example by running their own iTracker servers that only communicate with licensed P2P systems.

But there is a good chance that they won’t bother doing so. P4P can save them lots of money. Verizon, which made use of an iTracker run by Yale for its recent test of the technology, was able to route 56 percent of its P2P traffic locally with the help of P4P, whereas usually only 6 percent of all P2P transfers happen between Verizon customers. This means that they’ll have to buy much less bandwidth to give you access to your torrents.

Verizon or any other ISP implementing P4P would save even more money if they’d leave running the iTracker up to a third party that serves all BitTorrent trackers, such as the one run by, or the one run by The Pirate Bay. And ISPs like to save money, so the odds are good that your Pirate Bay torrents will get a boost from this as well.