Americans using BitTorrent less (or maybe not)

According to a report just released by Sandvine, peak time BitTorrent traffic in North America (including Canada) has dropped by 20% over the last six months.

sandive q1 2013
1H 2013 study

sandive q2 2013
2H 2013 study

While this may reflect a combination of aggressive measures taken against copyright infringers (such as the ‘six strikes’ graduated response scheme introduced in the US in February this year), plus the fact that the US has the best legal streaming options available in the world, it may equally point to increased use of VPNs instead.

The aggregate figures above total just 73.35 per cent of total bandwidth use, which leaves the question of what is using up the rest of it – particularly in light of the huge rise in popularity of VPN use.

gtrends vpn use us
Google Trends report

Interestingly on page 16 of the report we find the following statement,

‘Much like other mobile networks during peak period, Real-Time Entertainment traffic is the clear traffic category leader. Web Browsing and Social Networking, as seen commonly in other regions, round out the second- and third-most popular traffic categories. What is most noticeable in Europe (and consistent with previous reports) is the increase in the share of Tunneling, which accounts for 13.8% of upstream traffic and 6.8% of downstream traffic during peak period. The exact cause for the increase is uncertain, but we suspect it may be indicative of subscribers using VPNs to access regionally restricted content, as well as increased concern about privacy online.’

This strongly suggests to us that North American users are using VPN to connect to servers in European countries where P2P downloading is not a crime (such as in the Netherlands).

In addition to this, as a commentator on this subject on TorrentFreak observed,

‘So the question here is this, out of the 24% of unaccounted dl’ing bandwidth, how much of that is based on VPNs? Even if it is only 1% say, and most of that would be for bittorrent that puts bittorrent at 5% dl’ing and some 8% for Aggregate (sic)’.

In other words, even taking highly a conservative estimate of VPN use, the drop in BitTorrent use is nowhere near as dramatic as suggested by Sandvine’s report.

It seems to us therefore unlikely that North Americans are turning away from BitTorrent in significant numbers, and much more likely that more and more are discovering VPN as a way evading America’s increasingly draconian copyright enforcement systems.

Douglas Crawford I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. Find me on Google+

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