A P2P Primer

The infrastructure that allows Skype-to-Skype calls to continue to be free.

Telecom industry veteran and VoIP pioneer Tom Evslin writes an excellent blog covering politics, life in Vermont, technology business issues and occasionally the communications industry. While the rest of us were beating the Skype outage issue to death, Tom was writing a very informative three part series of posts on "P2P – Boon, Boondoggle or Bandwidth Hog?" The trigger for Tom’s posts was the BBC’s decision to make most of its content available free over the Internet for a limited time after showing using P2P technology. He does reference Skype throughout the series.

I. Introduction: P2P Explanation for non-nerds, Advantages of P2P – Scalability, Survivability, Hardware Economics, Bandwidth Economics (posted August 15 before the outage):

… So the bandwidth needed for both the calls and the call setup is provided by the users. If eBay had to provide all this bandwidth, Skype-to-Skype calls probably wouldn’t be free.

II. The Dark Side: A discussion of the implications for ISP’s on a P2P-based application that is "much cheaper FOR THE PROVIDER of the application in terms of hardware and bandwidth required".

It’s the FOR THE PROVIDER part that’s the rub. Let’s consider the case of BBC’s iPlayer service. For a seven days after most broadcasts, UK residents over 16 years old can download the show free and store it 30 days on their PCs for later viewing which can be offline. The current version doesn’t even download ads with the shows.

Sounds great, right? Just what TV should become on the Internet. Not so fast, according to British ISPs.

and, having been posted August 16, it includes a "Timely note: Ironically, as I write this, P2P network Skype is experiencing a rare outage". Read his post for the rest of this "note".

III. Is Metering the Answer? Triggered by a comment to the August 16th post from Aswath "suggesting that charging users explicitly for both upload and downloads pricing is “an equitable solution” to the congestion problem ISPs claim is caused when peer to peer (P2P) services use some of each user’s “unlimited” Internet capacity to serve other users…" Tom provides his counter arguments including metering’s impact on usage and the high overhead of billing systems. And it is here that Tom’s experience with Microsoft, AT&T and his own carrier-grade wholesaleVoIP startup come into play; Tom not only understands all the infrastructure cost issues but also the human dynamics involved associated with metered services.

Certainly provides some insight and appreciation as to why Skype-to-Skype calls can continue to be free.

Full disclosure: While at Quarterdeck I was responsible for a business relationship that involved incorporation of AT&T WorldNet’s service into Quarterdeck’s Internet software. I was meeting with his team the day AT&T announced "all-you-can-eat" flat rate monthly pricing and received a six figure number of enquiries that day alone.

Tags: P2P, Tom Evslin, BBC iPlayer, Skype, Aswath, P2P Infrastructure

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.
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