Will uTorrent Really Kill the Internet?

An inflammatory article published by Richard Bennett in The Register makes the claim 'BitTorrent will kill the Internet', or at least VoIP and games. However, are Bennett's claims based in reality, or is it just another round in the FUD war that envelops the Internet?

utorrentA lot of buzz around the net today has been generated by Richard Bennett, with his article “BitTorrent declares war on VoIP, gamers”. There’s just one problem with it – it’s utter rubbish.

We’ve mentioned Richard Bennett before, he was at the FCC hearing back in February, dealing with the Comcast-Sandvine issue. At the time, as we noted, he made the statement “If we can’t control network management, we’ll have to shut down the Internet”. With uTorrent’s new transfer protocol (uTP) that’s currently being tested in an early Alpha release of the BitTorrent client, Bennett sees another potential threat.

In his article, a doom scenario is painted where the Internet may collapse, even though uTorrent’s uTP is intended to reduce network congestion. Thankfully, the readers at The Register are a little more diligent in their fact-checking, and pointed out that many of his statements were inaccurate, or simply flat-out ridiculous.

Statements like “UDP was intended for real-time data transfers such as VoIP” and “Bulk data transfers are supposed to use TCP, in large part because it shoulders the burden of congestion control for the Internet’s end-to-end layer”, for example, are simply not true. It is highly unlikely that when UDP was conceived, that VoIP was in the forefront of anyone’s minds. There is also nothing anywhere that can be found that states bulk data transfer is ‘supposed’ to use TCP over UDP. It is preferred to use TCP, because if you’re transferring a lot of data, you want it to be intact. BitTorrent, however, uses several relatively small transfers, and has its own data checking system in place. It doesn’t need TCP’s delivery control as well.

uTorrent Community Manager ‘Firon’ explained to TorrentFreak: “We are using UDP for uTP because it is the only way to provide our own congestion control mechanism. It is designed to better react to changing network conditions and throttle itself back, even with other TCP connections active, such as the user doing video streaming or VoIP while torrenting.” The BitTorrent protocol also has a handshake for P2P communications, so using UDP just removes a duplicate connection handshake. Thus, in many ways, the move to UDP actually reduces traffic, hardly the way to cripple the net.

Bennett also made some other questionable statements, such as “Upset about Bell Canada’s system for allocating bandwidth fairly among Internet users, the developers of the uTorrent P2P application have decided to make the UDP protocol the default transport protocol for file transfers.” However, the truth is quite different. “uTP is not a response to Bell Canada,” said Firon. “It’s been in the works for a long time, since technically, since Ludde (Ludvig Strigeus, the original coder of uTorrent) was working on it.”

In response to concerns from other client developers, Firon mentioned that the specs for uTP will eventually be open. So, perhaps in time when all clients use this – and the Internet doesn’t crash and burn – fearmongers like Bennett be ignored. Of course, had Bennett any serious concerns he, like any of us, would probably have contacted someone at BitTorrent Inc. to express their concern. “No, he hasn’t contacted anyone,” said Firon, “that’s why his article is so blatantly wrong. It is disappointing that his only interest was sensationalism.”

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