NEWS

Are ‘chatty’ apps clogging up your system?

August 22, 2012 - Openet

Looking for more cost-effective ways of controlling bandwidth while ensuring that customers get the best mobile experience and buy more data services is a tough balancing act. Many of the most popular applications using monthly data allocation or pre-pay credit are the ones that are most draining on network resource.

Users often have more than 30 apps on their phone. Some they use a lot, others less so, and there will be some that have never been used. What most mobile customers don’t know is that many of these apps are consuming mobile bandwidth even when they’re not being used. And this is a problem that costs the average mobile operator several million dollars yearly.

This is caused by apps that are described as “chatty”–constantly signalling the mobile network several hundred times an hour to provide updates. At best, this overload in network signalling traffic can cause congestion and slow up speeds. At worst, it can cause networks to crash. In almost all cases network outages and performance collapses are avoidable and have been caused by too much app signalling traffic that isn’t necessary in the first place.

When apps are being developed, the use of an operator’s network is often way down the list of priorities for the app developer. They want to develop apps that are going to be most popular with customers, regardless of the amount of network resource the apps consume when they’re not being used and running in the background.

This unnecessary traffic also comes with a sting for users by draining smartphone batteries, which degrades the customer experience for the end user. Serious network outages not only cause headaches for the networks teams in operators. Customer service, sales and marketing teams are all placed under stress in the aftermath.

Last June, a leading UK operator managed to keep some customers relatively happy after a 17-hour network outage by giving each affected customer a 10 per cent reduction on their next bill, or 10 per cent bonus on their next pre-paid top up. In addition they also gave all customers a £10 voucher (about $16) for use in their stores. With media reports of “several hundred thousand” customers being affected, this is a fairly hefty compensation bill.

In Japan, a leading operator had a major network shutdown last January leading to a four-hour service outage. The operator’s senior management felt this strongly, with the company president and five other senior executives taking pay cuts between 10% and 20% for three months to show atonement for this network problem.

Network outages cost a lot to fix, and the cost often goes beyond spending money on additional network equipment.

Operators need to be able to reclaim control of their networks from app developers and pro-actively manage the level of signalling traffic on their network. To do this, they need intelligent, operator-controlled software installed on the smartphone. Such software manages the apps that are running on the device before they attempt to connect to the network and, therefore, before the signalling is introduced. This can limit the frequency with which unnecessary apps connect to the network and reduce the amount of signalling that occurs.

Many operators control the volume and type of data on their networks by using policy management systems. However, policy management systems control the data traffic on an operator’s core network. Signalling data is transmitted on the radio access network, which means that it is best pro-actively managed through the control software in tandem with policy management. This provides an overall policy strategy which optimizes network resources for traffic to and from smartphones.

Operators that control unnecessary app signalling traffic will deliver a major benefit to customers by improving the battery life of the customer’s smartphones. A leading US operator running trials to control chatty apps found that battery life could be increased by up to 50%. These results are achieved with no difference in app experience, as apps which are being used will not have signalling controls imposed on them. It is the apps that are not being used and are in the background that will be subject to pro-active controls to manage the signalling traffic.

The volume of signalling traffic generated by apps can be a problem for operators. To solve this they can spend heavily to add capacity to cater for this increase in signalling traffic caused by ‘chatty’ apps – in many cases this can be prohibitively expensive.

A cost-effective solution to address the high volume of app-generated signalling traffic could be to pro-actively manage chatty apps and reduce the unnecessary signalling traffic, thus saving on network spend and giving the customer a better experience.

Martin Morgan, our guest Outsider, is marketing manager at Openet

www.tmforum.org/community/blogs/the_outsider/archive/2012/08/22/are-chatty-apps-clogging-up-you-system.aspx

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