by Tom Lee

Filed Under:
bittorrent, hardware, traffic shaping

bittorrent, comcast

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.

Reader Comments

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  • identicon
    zcat, 3 Apr 2008 @ 8:21pm

    Wait, what?

    I thought that was an April 1 joke announcement..? "ISP gives up trying to filter p2p, buys company instead"

    You mean this is actually real?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Wolf, 3 Apr 2008 @ 9:14pm

    If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    R.H., 4 Apr 2008 @ 12:11am

    Collaboration != Purchase

    Comcast and Bittorrent, Inc. are collaborating with each other. This doesn't mean that Comcast is trying to buy Bittorrent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Russell Cole, 4 Apr 2008 @ 12:23am

    why cannot comcast just invest in more bandwidth

    Every expert that I have read, who has addressed this matter, has contended that the resources that comcast has spent in the development of technologies intended to thwart bitorrents could have been used to simply invest in additional bandwidth. In fact, the investment in laying out greater bandwidth would require less resources than the research and development needed to innovate technologies designed to contravene the file sharing of end-users.
    I wonder if comcast is not investing in a longer term project with the intent of developing the technology that will eventually sniff out every package in order to identity the transfer of copyrighted contents. No matter, whatever comcast had in mind when devising some bot monitoring the network, and disguising the communication sent under the identity of the other peer in the torrent transfer when severing the connection, I would think borders along the committence of fraud on the part of the isp.
    r cole

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Robb Topolski (profile), 4 Apr 2008 @ 6:31pm

    Forged RST packets sent for Comcast-2-Comcast Xfers

    "it's telling that forged RST packets were only ever sent for Bittorrent connections that extended beyond Comcast's network."

    In so much as Comcast was sold a bag of goods by Sandvine, the following does not change your ultimate conclusion. But the facts are that Sandvine actually does interfere with Comcast-to-Comcast connections as long as they're between Metropolitan areas.

    This is because the device is installed in each metro area.

    When I wrote the original article about this about a year ago, I made the incorrect assumption that Comcast's network was a single footprint and a single perimeter. It turns out that it has multiple footprints, each having its own perimeter. 6691-SandvineInMetroLocale

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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