How durable is your smartphone connection?
Urban Airship examines the steadfastness of mobile data connections today as devices and applications constantly vie for the network's attention. It's a metric that could become even more important as networks evolve and devices proliferate.
More: Could Connection Durability Become a Bigger Issue?
But Osborn implies that connection durability could become a much bigger issue as persistent applications become more sophisticated and widespread. A customer might not notice if a push message arrived a minute or two later than instantly, but more and more applications are being designed with presence in mind. When a network connection is lost, so is your presence.
U.S. operators’ 20-25 average daily reconnects—averaging one an hour--are probably not too much to worry about, but the question is whether those rates are increasing. If a phone is forced to re-establish its connection every 10 to 15 minutes, whole categories of persistent apps might be rendered useless. There seems to be two trends at work here, each tugging at opposite ends of those reconnect averages.
Operators are building denser and more extensive 3G and 4G footprints, expanding their coverage not only to far flung regions of the country but indoors and across transit networks. The more you’re in network coverage, the fewer times your phone will drop its data connection.
But operators are also building more diverse networks, laying LTE over GSM/UMTS and CDMA networks and building Wi-Fi offload points. Japanese CDMA operator KDDI is building a 100,000-hotspot Wi-Fi offload network—that’s one access point for every 320 customers. KDDI has a reconnect rate below 20 a day, according to Urban Airship’s study, but that number could shoot up incredibly as customers start moving between 3G and ever-present Wi-Fi clusters, not to mention from Wi-Fi access point to Wi-Fi access point.
The industry is building massive data networks to support the huge demand for mobile data services, but in the process these diverse networks may sacrifice the performance of some of the key persistent applications of the future. But Urban Airship’s Osborn said that the industry could prevent that from happening if it managed network connections more creatively. Instead of shunting every data connection off to the fattest pipe available, devices could access multiple networks simultaneously, using the Wi-Fi or a 4G network to handle the big data requests such as steamed video and file downloads, while using the ubiquitous and highly efficient signaling channel of the 3G network to carry the background buzz of persistent apps. Osborn sums it as so:
In an ideal world, an application would be able to choose which radio it used. This would allow applications to use the most appropriate connection for their connectivity type. For instance, Apple's push notification service will continue to work over 3G even if a Wi-Fi connection is established [as extremely low bandwidth applications] work best over 3G/Edge because the battery usage at rest is much lower. Plus it avoids the CPU/radio overhead of establishing a new connection. Currently there is no way to do this as an application developer on Android.
There may be no application programming interface yet, but the underlying network technology is in the works. InterDigital has developed a combo femtocell and Wi-Fi that manages the mobile IP connection as a whole rather than as separate networks (CP: InterDigital, Picochip meld Wi-Fi with femtos for mobile offload). Effectively a device can transmit over Wi-Fi and 3G simultaneously, using cheap Wi-Fi to handle the big loads while maintaining the 3G IP connection for all the chatter that goes on in the background.
Both Urban Airship and InterDigital are claiming that we can have both persistent durable connections along with extremely diverse networks. Rather than flop back and forth between networks, in an ideal world, we’ll have a single persistent connection that never shuts down coupled with multiple high-capacity and spectrally efficient networks to handle the heavy lifting.
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© 2013 Penton Media Inc.
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