Streaming video and other ways of downloading are on the increase and could eventually overtake peer-to-peer (P2P) as the most popular way of sharing files, says iPoque.

According to research by the company, which makes equipment for ISPs to manage network traffic, internet users are looking at alternative ways to download or view content, other than using BitTorrent or other P2P systems.

iPoque used deep-packet inspection (DPI) techniques to identity the online activities of around 1.1 million users. The data was then anonymised said iPoque.

P2P file sharing still comprises between 43 to 70 percent of internet traffic varying by region and depending on the quality of the internet connection. Some of the most popular systems and protocols include BitTorrent, which is indexed by search engines and trackers such as The Pirate Bay. Also popular are eDonkey, Gnutella and Ares.

In Eastern Europe, P2P made up about 83.4 percent of traffic in 2007; by 2008 and early 2009, that had fallen to 69.9 percent. In Southwestern Europe, P2P went from 63.9 percent in 2007 to 54.4 percent for iPoque's latest study.

iPoque found a resurgence in the use of Usenet, a system that dates back to the late 1970s that spawned threaded group discussions over the internet called newsgroups. Files can also be posted on Usenet's distributed servers. File sharers have turned to using them as they offer a somewhat greater degree of safety when moving files under copyright, Klaus Mochalski, CEO of iPoque said.

"The probability of being caught by these investigations is much lower than P2P," he said.

Companies such as Aviteo also offer subscription services that enable content from Usenet to be downloaded faster.

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Mochalski cautioned that iPoque's study looked at overall network traffic and didn't track specifically an absolute volume of P2P traffic. However, it appears that p2p traffic overall continues to grow, but that it is outpaced by other traffic, he said.

"What P2P lost in growth is now going to streaming and file-hosting sites," Mochalski said.

One reason is that ISPs are frequently implementing traffic management technology that can slow down certain P2P protocols in order to reduce strain on their networks, Mochalski said. Those slower download speeds means some users are migrating to other services where they can get faster downloads.

Users are turning to services such as RapidShare and MegaUpload, which let them upload a file and then share a link, called a direct download link, in emails and web forums. Most sites offer a free service with limits and subscriptions that allow more frequent downloads.

Also, rich websites offering streaming of Flash videos, continue to increase in number, iPoque found. Since a streaming Flash video plays through a web browser, it's an easier option for users since they don't have to install a separate downloading program. Also, there's a reduced risk of mistakenly downloading spyware and malware on riskier p2p networks, iPoque said.

iPoque's study found that Flash comprised more than 60 percent of all streaming videos. For the eight regions iPoque covered, streaming media protocols made up between a low of 4.6 percent of all internet traffic in the Middle East to a high of 10.1 percent in Southwestern Europe.

See also: P2P software could help detect zero-day attacks