Data-hungry apps are gobbling up bandwidth

Research by Virgin Media Business into mobile applications has revealed that some of the UK’s favourite free apps are eating up a whopping 115Mb per hour. With smartphones now accounting for 13% of the 17 million UK mobile handsets and with this figure only set to continue to rise, the question is; are mobile backhaul networks up to the task?

The study of the top 50 free mobile apps found that the average app consumes 0.89 MB in a five minute period and 10.7 MB in an hour. With smartphone owners typically using apps for 667 minutes a month, this equates to 119 MB a month or 1.4 GB each year. The study also found that one popular consumer application, Tap Zoo, uses 9.6 MB of data in just five minutes and 115 MB in an hour. To put this in perspective, Tap Zoo consumes 75,579 per cent more data than the least data-hungry app, which uses a mere 13kb in a five minute period.

With huge volumes of data now travelling across mobile networks, consumers and businesses alike will become increasingly vulnerable to creaking mobile internet connections. More organisations than ever are looking to drive efficiency and productivity by equipping their workforce with smartphones. As this trend continues, mobile network providers will need to invest in their own backhaul capabilities in order to handle the rise in mobile data via app usage.

But applications aren’t the only offenders when it comes to cellular data. Video streaming sites can consume colossal amounts. Across the world, YouTube now accounts for 17 per cent of all mobile data traffic. Virgin Media Business’ study found that watching YouTube videos on a mobile phone for just one hour can use almost 130 MB of data.

Commenting, George Wareing, head of mobile and broadcast at Virgin Media Business, said: “As more businesses go mobile and look to bring technology from the consumer world into the workplace, it’s expected that mobile data traffic will continue to rise rapidly.

“Our study shows that spending just a few hours using some applications or streaming multimedia content, can lead to huge traffic surges as vast amounts of data is downloaded. As apps become more sophisticated, and businesses look to develop their own applications for employees to use, problems with mobile networks getting clogged up will only intensify. With data traffic almost doubling in 2010 and smartphone sales set to increase by 50 per cent in 2011, mobile operators really need to think about how they can manage the data explosion as millions more join the smartphone revolution.”

Dimitris Mavrakis, senior analyst, Informa Telecoms & Media, said: “Mobile traffic is growing at a frightening pace, and it shows no sign of stopping. By 2015, the average smartphone user will be generating around 700 per cent more traffic than they do today, with much of that coming from mobile applications. With smartphone users already making up two-thirds of all mobile traffic, despite just 13% of mobile users possessing a smartphone, you can see why operators are starting to get worried.

“Introducing limits on data usage is one way to control rising traffic levels, but with demand for the mobile web growing fast, and 3G-enabled tablets and eReaders coming into the mix, this is just a sticking plaster. Operators need to take a serious look at how they can improve the network capacity and quality of service for users. Moving to a fibre-optic backhaul service is the only way that operators can really future-proof their network.”

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