BitTorrent and Netflix Dominate America’s Internet Traffic

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New data published by the Canadian broadband management company Sandvine reveals that on the average day Netflix and BitTorrent are responsible for 40 percent of all Internet traffic in North America. During peak hours Netflix accounts for a third of all download traffic, while BitTorrent is credited for nearly half of all upload traffic during the busiest time of the day.

Over the years, many Internet traffic reports have been published. Back in 2004, long before the BitTorrent boom had started, studies already indicated that BitTorrent was responsible for an impressive 35% of all Internet traffic.

In the years that followed the Internet traffic distribution underwent a metamorphosis, as video streaming took off with the launch of YouTube and later Netflix. However, all this time BitTorrent remained a significant player and new data confirms that this is still the case.

Sandvine, the company that’s best known for manufacturing the hardware that slowed down BitTorrent users on Comcast, has released their latest Internet traffic report. The report highlights several emerging trends in Internet traffic consumption in North America.

Netflix is by far the most bandwidth-consuming source of traffic. On an average day, 23.3% of all North American traffic comes from or goes to Netflix. BitTorrent is a good second with 16.5% of the traffic pie, meaning that Netflix and BitTorrent together account for almost 40% of all traffic.

The main difference between BitTorrent and Netflix traffic is that the former is more spread out over the day, as BitTorrent users continue downloading overnight.

The graph below shows the usage of various types of traffic during peak hours, where BitTorrent takes up nearly half of all upstream bandwidth. Netflix is the absolute king in terms of downstream traffic here, accounting for nearly one third of all traffic during peak hours.

Peak hour traffic in North America (source Sandvine)

traffic graph

The data further shows that BitTorrent is the last major P2P network standing. After LimeWire was shut down exactly one year ago, major traffic to and from the Gnutella network vanished completely. Last year it was responsible for 11% of upstream traffic and 2% of downstream traffic during peak hours. In October 2011 it is no longer present among the top 10 traffic sources.

Interestingly enough, none of the popular file-hosting services generates enough traffic to make it into the top 10 in North America. However, the report shows that this is quite the opposite in Brazil, where a massive 9.45% of all traffic during peak hours goes through Megaupload, and another 1.97% through its sister site Megavideo.

Both Megavideo and Megaupload are also listed in the top 10 in Africa with 2.33% and 3.11% respectively. Other regional differences that stand out include Google Video being twice as popular than YouTube in Eastern Europe. In Brazil on the other hand, YouTube is generating nearly a quarter of all Internet traffic during peak hours.

Aggregate peak hour traffic (source Sandvine)

traffic graph

While keeping in mind that Sandvine might benefit from overestimating the percentage of P2P traffic because they sell traffic shaping applications, the above shows that BitTorrent is still a major player on the internet in terms of the traffic it generates. But the question is for how long.

The rise of Netflix in North America – despite negative results earlier this week – shows that there is plenty of interest in paid entertainment. Combined with the traffic stats above it is fair to assume that many more people pay for movies than those who download. For Hollywood this leads to the disappointing conclusion that even if all movie pirating BitTorrent users got a Netflix account, the effect on the movie industry’s revenues would only be ‘marginal’.


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