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Does peer-to-peer television has the future?


Taking up a question about the future of peer-to-peer television, letís plunge into origins, i.e., let's examine, what it is and what is the basic principle of such television. And the principle is very simple, almost exactly repeats the principle of usual torrent client operation. I.e. Iím watching live streaming of TV channel, and at the same time I seed video stream to another viewer, he receives it from me and at the same time seeds to the third viewer, and etc. As a result, the video stream goes to each viewer not from central servers, but from the same viewers. Advantages are great. This is practically unlimited network capacity, resulting in an almost unlimited number of viewers, and the absence of central servers for content distribution, and a lot of everything else.

It is not surprisingly that there is a large number of projects Ė like Open Source, as well as closed projects, which offer solutions for p2p television. But why they are not extremely popular, if everything is so well? Let's try to understand.

Start with a simple one. What is the difference between files transfer via peer-to-peer network from the video stream transfer? First of all, usual torrent client downloads a file not consistently, byte-by-byte, but in blocks. One block it downloads from seeding one, the other block from another one, and etc. These blocks can be from different parts of file. In this lies the key difference from video stream transfer, when we are obliged to transfer the video consistently, byte-by-byte. Each project offers its own solution to this problem, plus regularly, with some periodicity, in press appear articles about another programmer has solved this problem especially successful and has developed a completely functional system of peer-to-peer television, and it has a little left to do - find investors for project startup in mass production, as it is called. Then all calms down, and after some time the history repeats.

But letís divert our attention away for a while from talented programmers, open source projects and see how things are going on this issue of high and mighties - large corporations and companies.

In 2008 with support of the European Union a consortium was created, which includes 21 largest companies from 12 countries of the world. Consortium tasks include development of a system of peer-to-peer television. Such companies as BBC, Pioneer and many others are among partners. The name of this project is P2PNext. All information on consortium activities is available on the website http://www.p2p-next.org/ According to the information of 2011, 19 million euros have already been invested in this project. Project completion was planned in 2012. Has it been finished or not, I just didn't understand. According to information from the site, last major events took place in the autumn of 2011, i.e. about a year ago. Although, publications continue to be issued, so the project, most likely, is still alive. At that, it is not quite clear, what results have been achieved and if they are using somewhere in practice. On website I was able to find information only about projectís demonstration at exhibitions. Thus, it's anybody's guess what has been done there and whether it was used anywhere. It is a fact that it is not yet common in the broad masses - most likely we would be faced it.

Let's look further. The most well known peer-to-peer systems are Skype and Joost project, which was created in 2007. We all know what Skype is, but stop on Joost minutely. Joost was created specifically as a project of peer-to-peer television, a special p2p client for viewing was created. In 2007, a great future was predicted to the project, which was called a killer of traditional Internet television. Investors have invested in the project a significant amount - $45 million. But what we see afterwards - by 2008, Joost rejected the peer-to-peer and returns to traditional system of broadcasting Ė Flash. From bad to worse. In 2009, the Joost Company recognize themselves as a bankrupt and project was closed. And it was one of the most ambitious projects of peer-to-peer television!

Although since all of us have been acquainted with Skype for a long time, letís try and "touch" it with a scalpel. Not long ago Microsoft Company, which has acquired Skype, refused from the standard peer-to-peer network and start transferring customer service in centralized data centers. We can say a lot about the reasons of such action, but it is not so important for us. The following fact is important - a walk-off from traditional peer-to-peer scheme.

So, what do we see? All projects of peer-to-peer television, despite significant funding, have gone bankrupt, or live a quiet, slack life, not reminding about itself. So what's the point, why such a great and seemingly promising projects just fade away?

First of all, it comes to mind that users don't like when someone download video from them. Yes it is, probably. But it is unlikely to be the key point, so I tried to probe deeper.

I decided to look at this question from an ordinary user point of view. I have downloaded and installed usual torrent client, run it and decided to watch for traffic. I have the most common router at home, like millions of users have. So what have I saw? As soon as a number of client connections appears, significant failures in net connection appears immediately, packets start to disappear and connection becomes unstable. At first I thought it was a kind of providerís restriction. In order to test my assumption, I have installed a professional router, which cost is about 10 times higher than of the previous router, and repeated the experiment. As a result, the connection instantly became stable, and the packetsí loss disappeared. I.e., provider is not to blame. Simply, usual home routers cannot provide high-quality service for even few torrent clients. In the case with the usual torrent, we were not much worried about packetsí loss, because eventually all files will be downloaded correctly, but in the case with peer-to-peer video, this issue let us hear from it. Of course, the question is solving by purchasing more expensive router, but who and why will do it?

In my note "How video relay works" I told you about working principle of relays in developed by myself broadcasting system. It would seem, register relay as a plug-in to browser, add system of choosing signal sources (other clients) - and here it is, finished peer-to-peer client system. But is it necessary? Taking into account all above-stated Ė it is not. Thatís why, letís wish peer-to-peer television "good night" and retire quietly from this action field.

Igor, October 2012.



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