Peer-to-peer applications are more opportunity than threat, and both broadband providers and content owners are better off learning to cash in on P2P than fight it, said panelists at Broadband World Forum Asia Thursday.
Content providers have long equated P2P technologies from Napster and Grokster to KaZaa and BitTorrent with media piracy, while broadband providers have faced traffic management nightmares as P2P traffic eats up capacity, especially upstream links.
But two speakers at a "hot seat" panel on P2P defended the technology, saying it was up to both the broadband and content industries to adapt to the P2P reality rather than demonize it.
"P2P is like a rock star caught up in some controversy or another," said Shashi Kaligotia, chief architect of next-generation networks at Tech Mahindra, pointing out that P2P is really a form of distributed supercomputing that can be used to great effect.
Horace Lau, AsiaPac area solutions architect for PeerApp, agreed that P2P has plenty of benevolent uses besides piracy, such as enterprises sharing corporate content like training videos.
Lau added that the piracy threat of P2P was overblown in any case.
"People have the perception that most P2P traffic is pirated movies or music, but if you look at the real traffic in Asia, the majority of it is actually Microsoft updates," he said.
Meanwhile, P2P is already being touted as an efficient distribution mechanism that could be used for legal content services like Joost and the modern version of BitTorrent.
"People use P2P for illegal downloads because when they go to the legal provider to get content, it's not there," Lau said. "From the business POV, it makes more sense to develop a business model that motivates people to download legal content. If content providers make their content more easily available and easy to find and download, people will pay for that."
Lau added that legal content providers have other advantages over illegal P2P, such as the ability to guarantee QoS.
As for the bandwidth management issues that P2P creates for broadband providers, Kaligotia said that such issues are the consequence of asymmetrical network design, and that trying to block or throttle P2P users is only postponing the inevitable task of re-engineering the network.
"Now that 60% to 70% of traffic is P2P, the question should be, how do service providers leverage that to their advantage and utilize this supercomputer‾" he said. "There's a big opportunity there to look at it from a traffic utilization perspective."
Lau agreed. "Service providers need to upgrade their access infrastructure to make it more efficient for P2P," he said. Internet content is getting larger anyway, so the network needs re-engineering to make it more efficient."