In 2006, it was commonly thought that BitTorrent was going to take over the Internet. There were good reasons for these beliefs, as it comprised approximately 70 percent of online traffic at its peak. Since then, however, the famous protocol has dropped in popularity, and its share of Internet traffic has decreased significantly. In fact, some people are now questioning whether BitTorrent is, in effect, dead. Here are a few trends affecting this file-sharing protocol and what to expect in the future.
The Rise of Streaming
Although BitTorrent is used for music and computer programs, video remains the driving force behind its popularity due to the large size of video files. Shortly after BitTorrent’s peak, YouTube began its meteoric rise in popularity. The next blow came via Netflix, which provided people with an easy and affordable means to tap into a massive library of video at a low cost. Other streaming solutions followed suit, and BitTorrent is now used for only a fraction of video sent online. But, there are reasons to expect this trend to change in the near future.
An Uptick in Popularity?
Some recent trends seem to show a resurgent BitTorrent. Much of this growth comes from regions outside of the United States and Europe, where fast Internet connections are becoming far more common. In some regions, the cost of a subscription to a streaming service is prohibitively expensive. The cost of an Internet connection capable of accessing large files via P2P, however, is becoming more and more accessible.
The demand for file-sharing in these regions is compounded by international licensing agreements for content. That makes it impossible for people in some areas to access particular media. Despite a willingness to pay for media, many have only the option of illegal downloads. That way, P2P downloads can be expected to thrive in areas where legal streaming content is unavailable.
Much of the conversation surrounding BitTorrent deals with its illegal use. However, there are valid use cases that companies might seek to take advantage of. Video files, for example, have become much larger over the years. By having users access these large files through torrents, companies can save on bandwidth and deliver large files at a much lower cost, even to users with a paid subscription.
Furthermore, archives of public domain material can be expensive to maintain. P2P file-sharing allows a relatively small number of seeders to provide access to the rest of the world. Torrenting may prove to be the best tool available for archiving information, especially for less popular content.
BitTorrent Dominates Upstream
Although it no longer commands as much download traffic as it once did, some research shows that it’s still the most popular source of upload traffic as typical users rarely upload large volumes of data. Most users are concerned about their download speeds and upload speeds seldom matter, except for businesses, server providers and streamers. Because users’ uploading capabilities are rarely fully used, BitTorrent remains a largely untapped resource.
Another factor in BitTorrent’s favor is its well-tested infrastructure. Although companies could attempt to come up with alternatives, it's difficult to envision any catching on when P2P technology is so open and so thoroughly tested. It has proven to be a robust technology, and it's gained a reputation of being secure over the years. Few companies use it for infrastructure technology. But, if demand for bandwidth rises faster than anticipated, some companies are likely to turn to BitTorrent to fill these needs.
Good lighting and a modern smartphone are all that's needed to create high-quality content and post it online. Although YouTube is the most popular repository for posting this content, decentralized options have a number of advantages. YouTube, by default, doesn't allow users to download videos. But a torrent that has a few seeders can be used to share high-definition content at a low cost to the creator.
One of the advantages of torrenting over streaming is the temporary nature of the latter. The user doesn't get to keep the file. That is another reason why a growing number of people are turning to physical media and downloads. With 4K video and other bandwidth-intensive technology becoming standard, BitTorrent may be the only technology able to meet the demands of creator-driven entertainment.
During BitTorrent’s most popular days, many predicted the technology would forever be the largest consumer of Internet bandwidth. With the rise of streaming, however, it became clear that Netflix and other streaming services would have a large role to play.
Despite taking up less traffic than it used to, BitTorrent is still remarkably popular, and it has some advantages over other technologies. Although it seems unlikely that it will ever come to fully dominate the Internet, its versatile and decentralized design makes it a durable technology. The changes in how people consume media make it likely that BitTorrent will see a resurgence at some point in the future.