U.S. telecom giant AT&T has been awarded a patent for speeding up BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer traffic, and reducing the impact that these transactions have on the speed of its network.

Unauthorised file-sharing generates thousands of petabytes of downloads every month, sparking considerable concern among the ISP community due to its detrimental effect on network speeds. Although file-sharing between computers is not an illegal practice, many ISPs have suppressed speeds of BitTorrent clients, who for example are using the software to obtain films and music, and other intellectual property-protected files – although the Torrent protocol is also used legitimately by network customers as large as Facebook and Yahoo.

In the UK, it was reported last year that Orange throttled roughly 38% of connections, and BT interfered with 35%.

AT&T and its Intellectual Property team has targeted the issue in a more positive manner, and appealed for the new patent to create a ‘fast lane’ for BitTorrent and other file-sharing traffic, speeding up transfers and reducing networking costs.

The patent, filed as System and Method to Guide Active Participation in Peer-to-Peer Systems with Passive Monitoring Environment, whilst outlining the benefits of P2P networks, also points out their impact on greater broadband resources:

“P2P networks can be useful for sharing content files containing audio, video, or other data in digital format. It is estimated that P2P file sharing, such as BitTorrent, represents greater than 20% of all broadband traffic on the Internet.”

In its attempt to limit this pressure, the Texas-based ISP is set on developing technology whereby content is served locally – giving priority to local traffic and caching files from local servers.

“The local peer server may provide the content to peers within the same subnet more efficiently than can a peer in another subnet’” wrote AT&T. “As such, providing the content on the local peer server can reduce network usage and decrease the time required for the peer to download the content.”

As well as developing systems around the caching of local files, the ISP has proposed analysing BitTorrent traffic to connect high-impact clients to peers who use fewer resources, as Fig. 5 of the patent demonstrates below:

att-fig.5_[1]

“Peers downloading the high-impact content can be identified. For example, the IP address of peers downloading the high-impact content can be determined,” reads the patent.

“In an embodiment, pieces of the data file may be preferentially retrieved from peers closer in the network or peers having a lower network cost,” AT&T added.

Considering net neutrality principles and the movement’s opposition to ‘fast lanes’ however, it is doubted that the patented systems will come to full fruition.