What Comcast/Bittorrent Actually Means: Bittorrent Selling Hardware
from the less-or-more-than-you-expected? dept
Comcast's decision to collaborate with Bittorrent, Inc. attracted a predictably huge amount of attention and analysis. But surprisingly little of it has actually speculated as to what Bittorrent, Inc. is actually going to do for Comcast. When guesses have been ventured, they've frequently suggested that the company will throw its weight around in order to alter the protocol and make it more friendly to Comcast's network. But this is unlikely for exactly the reasons Prof. Felten discusses at that link (though Felten actually argues that altering the protocol is the goal). Instead, I think there are reasons to believe that Bram Cohen's startup will be selling network appliances to Comcast.
There are two problems facing Comcast. (1) the expense that Bittorrent incurs in infrastructure demands and bandwidth bills and (2) the public outcry and potential FCC action invited by its initial artless solution to that problem. Announcing the partnership with Bittorrent, Inc.; pledging to increase upload capacity (as it no doubt planned to anyway); and ceasing to forge RST packets all go a long way toward solving the second problem.
But the first problem -- the expense -- remains, and it may prove to be the area where the new partnership has the most to offer. Have a look at the quote that Torrentfreak got from Bittorrent, Inc.'s Ashwin Navin:
We decided to collaborate with Comcast because they agreed to stop using RSTs, increase upload capacity, and evaluate network hardware that accelerates media delivery and file transfers.
Bittorrent, Inc. has primarily been known for acquiring uTorrent and for working to pitch BT as a content distribution system. But it's also announced partnerships with various hardware manufacturers. And while some of these vendors are probably looking for little more than to be able to slap "Bittorrent approved!" stickers on their consumer-grade routers, others clearly have the expertise to make network appliances. This is what Bittorrent, Inc. may be selling to Comcast.
What will these theoretical boxes do? Despite Comcast's announced intention to be protocol-agnostic, it seems most likely that the devices would serve as P2P repeaters, keeping more of a given swarm inside Comcast's systems and thereby minimizing expensive trips across the network boundary. Contrary to all of the online wailing about bandwidth hogs degrading its neighbors' internet service, this expense was always the real issue: it's telling that forged RST packets were only ever sent for Bittorrent connections that extended beyond Comcast's network. Establishing a repeater product would also add nicely to the company's Bittorrent DNA offering.
Whatever the specifics, minimizing network expenses is a reasonable goal that Comcast is certain to continue to pursue. Hopefully Bittorrent Inc. will help them find a way to do so without antagonizing their customers.