File Hosting, the New P-to-P?

As ISPs constrict file-sharing services such as BitTorrent, new data shows that users are moving to file-hosting Web sites to avoid slow downloads.

RapidShare and MegaUpload are among the most used file-hosting services. Together, the two sites account for 9 percent of all Internet traffic in the Middle East and 4 percent in Germany, according to iPoque, a company based in Leipzig, Germany, that specializes in traffic-management appliances for ISPs.

The percentages are significant since over the last year usage of file-sharing sites, which number in the dozens, has surged, said Klaus Mochalski, iPoque's CEO. The sites offer potentially faster download speeds for sharing files than peer-to-peer networks.

"These Web pages are tremendously popular," Mochalski said.

The services let users upload a file and then share a link, called a direct download link, in e-mails and Web forums for others to download the content. Most sites offer a free service with limits and subscriptions that allow more frequent downloads

IPoque published the data in its annual Internet Study 2007, which last year only covered P-to-P services, but now includes file-hosting services due to their popularity, Mochalski said.

iPoque's study look at data collected in August and September from ISPs and universities using its appliances in Australia, Eastern Europe, Germany, the Middle East and southern Europe.

The anonymous data consists of the Internet traffic patterns of about 1 million users. It provides a rare view into the composition of Internet traffic since ISPs tend to vigorously guard their data about their users due to privacy concerns.

The reason users are turning to file-hosting services is that many ISPs are restricting how fast people can download files through P-to-P services like eMule and BitTorrent. Although estimates vary by region, P-to-P traffic comprises between 50 percent and 90 percent of all Internet traffic, iPoque said.

The glut of movies, music and other content jamming the networks causes performance problems for other applications that need a certain amount of bandwidth in order to function properly, such as Skype's VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) application, Mochalski said.

Most ISPs are using traffic management technology, which can limit how much P-to-P traffic is allow to go through and prioritize other kinds of traffic. U.S. service provider Comcast came under fire in October after it acknowledged slowing down certain kinds of traffic. The company maintained it does not block specific kinds of traffic.

For smaller ISPs that must buy bandwidth from larger providers, traffic management has become a necessity to maintain service on their networks, Mochalski said.

"At certain ISPs, P-to-P hits 95 percent [of all traffic]," Mochalski said. "You can imagine how slow your network gets."

The music and film industry have been particularly sensitive to P-to-P file sharing and have continued a long-running legal battle to sue users who trade copyright files without authorization.

Both RapidShare and MegaUpload prohibit the uploading of copyright files without authorization from the copyright holder, and MegaUpload's terms and conditions says unauthorized files under copyright will be removed if the company is notified. MegaUpload is based on Hong Kong, and RapidShare's customers support line rings to Switzerland.

As part of its premium service, MegaUpload has a separate client application that it says makes uploads and downloads between two and six times faster than using a Web browser, depending on the speed of the connection. RapidShare also promises fast downloads.

P-to-P trafficcan be slowed when appliances detect packets of information that are transferred using known P-to-P protocols, Mochalski said.

Content shared with file-hosting sites gets around those restrictions by using the HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), but it would also be easy for ISPs to slow down that type of traffic because the packets contain the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) of the file-hosting service, and ISPs could reconfigure their equipment to slow it, Mochalski said.

But Mochalski notes that "this is so new many ISPs haven't implement bandwidth management for these [file-hosting] services yet."

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