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Summary:

As more people pick up smartphones, carriers, application developers and phone manufactures need to keep one thing in mind. Speed matters when it comes to adoption. But speed is a double-edged sword because as faster networks are deployed, the data tsunami swamping carriers grows.

As more people pick up smartphones and shell out for mobile data plans, carriers, application developers and phone manufactures need to keep one thing in mind: Speed matters. Even if it’s mobile, a connection to the web still needs to feel like broadband. Otherwise, people aren’t going to use their phones as often, or for as long. But speed is a double-edged sword because as newer, faster networks are deployed, the data tsunami already swamping carriers grows taller.

At a GigaOM  Bunker Session (GigaOM Pro, sub. req’d) in our offices on Wednesday, Artur Bergman, VP of engineering and operations at Wikia, said that folks visiting the site from an iPhone using slower 3G networks spend about four minutes there vs. the five to five-and-a-half minutes spent by iPod touch users coming in with (generally) faster Wi-Fi connections — a difference of as much as 38 percent.

Slow load times are also why I plan to dump my BlackBerry the second the Nexus One comes out on Verizon. I don’t even try to load web pages on that thing anymore, as I don’t have time to wait. I’d rather turn on my Mi-Fi and use my iPod touch. Yup, I carry three devices with me to sate my web addiction and make phone calls.

I’m apparently not the only one who’s impatient. Data from AdMob shows that folks using an iPod touch and Wi-Fi to connect to the web spend 100 minutes a day on their devices using apps, while those using 3G on the iPhone spend just 79 minutes. For other 3G handsets, that number rises to 80 minutes for Android phone users and 87 minutes for those on Palm devices.

I’m inferring from that data, my own experience and Bergman’s comments that if it ain’t fast, then users go home. The speed of a mobile application can be a result of the connection, the phone hardware and the application’s design (which can also involve the web browser instead of an app). Which is why faster processors for handsets and new WiMAX and LTE networks will not only appease current web users with a need for speed, but will drive demand ever higher.

Image courtesy of Flickr user zenera

  1. May I suggest to those who travel and carry more than one to three devices in order to connect to the web. I had tried purchasing the data and voice plan before with my wireless provider. I currently purchased the “tether software” program from the Blackberry Apps World and enjoying the connection speed to my laptop with my Storm 2. There is no limits to the usage since I already subscribe to data plan with my Blackberry. I can easily allow my calls to be answered by my voice mail. If it is “really important call”, I can interrupt the connection. I can easily connect to the web again. Why would I subscribe to additional data plan when I am able to connect to the web without limitation of usage….. May be the wireless provider will catch up and charge a much higher rate for their “required data plan” for Blackberry/Smartphone devices.

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  2. It isn’t just a speed issue. It is also a latency issue–and a massive one. Just as satellite internet bites for RDP, webcam and voice apps because of the unavoidable light-speed delays, mobile ‘broadband’ bites too. Doing a tracert with my provider shows up to nine hops of .16 to .25 second each in a 10.x.x.x address space before the requests finally hit the land-based backbone. Brutal. Speed is nice, but apps that do low volume chit-chat like RDP just don’t work well with that high a latency. THAT has to get fixed first.

    As for Tetherberry, I’ve looked at that. My provider charges $0.60/MB for tethered charges. Yes, Tetherberry is SUPPOSED to ensure that I don’t get a $10000 phone bill–but I don’t trust the app or the provider enough to take that risk. The telcos have a lot more money for lawyers than me. It ain’t worth the risk of the telco saying “oh by the way, you violated the service terms by using tetherberry for the last 18 months. 90 GB. 92160 MB. $0.60/MB. That’ll be $55296 plus tax. NOW. Please.”

    Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll pass on tetherberry.

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  3. [...] volumes on mobile networks are surging, and this article from GigaOM points out that 3G networks aren’t keeping pace. If consumers don’t get a fast, quality [...]

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  4. More than speed, the usage context affects the length of time users spend in a mobile app or web site. Whether you are on the couch at home or on a street corner, the interaction may be exploratory (linger a bit and discover interesting content that I wasn’t even looking for), or more goal-oriented (get what I want and get out) respectively.

    A user connecting via WiFi is more likely to be stationary with a leisurely or exploratory usage style, whereas a user connecting via a relatively slow carrier data plan may be waiting in line outside a club, riding in a car, or in any number of scenarios that favor brief goal-oriented device interactions.

    Truth be told, it is tough to know which affects the duration of use more (speed or context). At the very least, I would argue that it is a mix of both, not one or the other.

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