A new version of the Bittorrent protocol is about to launch. Bittorrent is a distribution technique for online content that's used heavily by both legitimate software publishers (like Activision Blizzard) and illicit file sharing sites (like the Pirate Bay).
The update focuses around the problem of connection throttling. When the protocol was developed, broadband wasn't as widespread. ISPs were able to satisfy the majority of people's usage of their connection. Now, however, most customers don't use the majority of their connection speeds, so ISPs have built their networks slightly smaller than they need to be to serve everyone.
Bittorrent, however, uses every bit of a connection to operate efficiently, so it's very taxing on the ISP's networks. As a result, most major ISPs will artificially "throttle" connections where Bittorrent is being used, reducing download speeds to a crawl.
The new version of the protocol aims to avoid this by becoming "network aware". If the connection detects congestion, then it'll automatically slow down, so that other applications can operate at full efficiency. Network usage expands when there's space, like the original version of the protocol, but unlike the original, it'll contract when there's congestion.
The improvement is called uTP, and could represent multi-billion dollar savings for ISPs, according to BitTorrent's VP of Product Management, Simon Morris. He told TorrentFreak: "uTP measures the time a packet takes to get sent from peer A to peer B, so in theory uTP will detect congestion anywhere on that path, although in practice the congestion most often happens somewhere on the first-mile uplink connection".
As a result, you'll perhaps get your files a smidge slower than before, but there'll be negligible effect on the network as a result. It's an altogether more sustainable solution, benefiting both users (who get more reliable downloads) and ISPs (who get reduced network traffic).
uTP is currently only available in the newest beta (2.0) of the uTorrent client. Older versions of uTorrent will accept uTP connections, but they won't start them, so it's worth upgrading as soon as possible.
The effects should be noticeable by both ISPs and users relatively quickly once uTorrent's beta gets a full release, as uTorrent and the Mainline client are, between them, used by two thirds of all BitTorrent users.