The Growing Need for Data Transparency
The time has come to shed light on how mobile apps and browsers consume bandwidth.
As iPads, iPhones, Nooks, Kindles, and other mobile devices multiply like rabbits and join the established ranks of desktop and laptop computers, the nature of traffic to and from all device types is changing. The key reason for this change is that the mobile apps that are being downloaded are supplanting the browser for completing more specialized tasks. Simply stated, mobile apps have been created to accomplish very specific tasks (i.e., weather, traffic, news, movie schedules, etc.), whereas browsers can almost be viewed as a utility for accomplishing many tasks (i.e., a Swiss Army Knife).
To the surprise of many, app-centric activity consumes more bandwidth than browser-centric activity—and given that mobile device users are more likely to pay for bandwidth consumed, understanding how apps consume bandwidth can avoid end-of-month billing surprises.
The real question is why are mobile apps more bandwidth-hungry than browsers?
To get to the bottom of this we set up a traffic measurement lab and performed side-by-side comparisons of the same activities performed over apps and over browsers, and we compared results using a variety of mobile devices such as iPhones, iPads, Kindles and Nooks to results using computers. In one test, for example, we downloaded Wall Street Journal content using Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer as well as the Wall Street Journal app on an iPad.
Our testing shows that user requests for content, irrespective of the device or platform, generate traffic that falls into four categories—content, background traffic, advertising, and stealth traffic.
Content traffic encompasses the "visible" content that the user will see. Content is delivered in a real-time or a stored form. Browsers generally deliver real-time or just-in-time content that is immediately visible on the screen (i.e., one WSJ article). Apps, on the other hand generally download a lot of content to the user's device that a user may or may not ever view (i.e., 124 WSJ articles in a typical day's issue).
Background traffic is material that downloads to your device based on the content you have requested. It typically consists of cookie updates, Java scripts calling for things over the network, as well as any extra material.
Advertising traffic is the ads that are embedded into the content or part of the background load. Advertising is typically intermixed with the real-time content.
Stealth traffic is created by a growing phenomenon of communication between the device or browser and a product or service vendor, typically tracking such things as device usage and/or location.
It's time for traffic bandwidth consumption transparency. Users have the right to know what is consuming their bandwidth, especially when they must foot the bill for it. Content providers, advertisers, and vendors owe it to users to be prudent in the amount of traffic they generate, and they should give users at least some say over determining what consumes their bandwidth.
It's not right for a mobile user to have to pay a price when a fat advertisement is downloaded without their permission--or if an entire on-line magazine reloads every time the publisher corrects a typo.