Yes, 4G and LTE networks are huge improvements over previous-generation mobile networks, but they’re not about to cure mobile-data woes without some smart development to help them. Speaking at GigaOM Mobilize on Thursday, Aspera’s Serban Simu and Akamai’s Kris Alexander espoused the value of both intelligent network design and intelligent app designers to begin with.
The problem with transferring large files such as movies over mobile networks really boils down to distance and congestion. As Alexander explained, even a 300-kilobit web site can take a long time to load because it might involve 30 different requests that each must make the roundtrip from phone to mobile network to the internet and back. Right now, he said, web pages for major companies that take 3 seconds to load over the web take 9 seconds to load on a mobile device, which is a huge problem if companies don’t want users abandoning their sites.
Aspera’s Simu pointed to congestion as a major inhibitor of rich mobile experiences. Although 4G networks can boost performance of his company’s file-transfer tool by three to four times over 3G networks, Simu said, it’s a volatile medium on which performance is inconsistent, in large part because a network can become congested in just fractions of a second.
One part of the solution will come from carriers, device manufacturers, and middlemen such as Aspera and Akamai that can make data transfer that much more efficient. Referencing those 30 roundtrips to load a standard web site, Alexander asked, “What if I could do it in two or three? What if i could do it in one?”
Or if devices and servers were both speaking the same language, he added, perhaps they could intelligently decide to take shortcuts that deliver content in a manner that accounts for the chatty nature of TCP/IP networks. Akamai, he noted, it working on all sorts of tactics for improving the performance of mobile data networks, and it plans to make them available industry-wide.
Simu suggested the idea of caching data on devices themselves, noting that a standard device can easily hold enough properly encoded HD video to let someone stream episodes of a television series and keep only the data that’s needed to watch what’s coming next.
But the real trick is for app developers to get smart about programming. They can’t rely on bandwidth to improve, and even tools like what Aspera and Akamai are doing can only improve certain aspects of a mobile app’s performance. A beautiful UI is great, Simu said, but maybe not as important as reducing those 50 REST calls down to 1, or figuring out whether the amount of data an app has to send in order to be useful is even feasible at all.