One of the reasons people put down BitTorrent is because it can, at times, be slower than traditional protocols like HTTP and FTP. But the technology isn’t at fault, it’s the upload speeds of users that are capped, which prevents files from being shared more efficiently.
Until recently, Internet usage has been a one-way street. People accessed web pages and downloaded pictures, music and videos. The need to upload significant amounts of data was limited to e-mail attachments and files sent over IM. This has all changed.
Web 2.0 is interactive by nature. People are not only consuming content, they’re creating it too. From uploading photos and videos to sites like Flickr and YouTube to downloading files over BitTorrent and sharing them on P2P networks, traffic flow on the Internet is now bi-directional.
The problem is that most ISPs seem to be completely unaware of this phenomenon. Upload speeds offered are many times less than download speeds. Most ISPs in the U.S. provide largely asymmetric connections, upload speeds are on average 15 times slower than download speeds. Strange since the country seems to be the epicenter of the Web 2.0 boom.
Slow upload speeds directly affect BitTorrent transfers. If users aren’t able to upload bits as fast as they download them, a torrent requires more seeders than leechers to stay healthy. And for there to be enough seeders, a significant number of users have to have already downloaded the file. That’s why the speed at which you download a newly created torrent is normally much slower than a HTTP transfer. The speed of the BitTorrent swarm will always max out on the combined upload speed.
Also, because BitTorrent is a fair trade protocol, what you give is what you get. The more you upload, the more you’ll be able to download from others. So, for example, If you had to choose between a 1Mbit up – 1Mbit down connection and a 0.5Mbit up – 2Mbit down connection, the first option would be a better choice.
The Internet is slowly moving away from central servers that store data, towards P2P powered services like BitTorrent where content is dispersed over a large number of users. ISPs need to understand this and realize that users are soon going to start demanding symmetric connections, with upload speeds equaling downloads. After all, TIME Magazine’s person of the year is “You”. And there wouldn’t be a “You” without YouTube and other such services that allow us to get online and express ourselves.
Creative Commons photograph by Micha Niskin.