iPhone apps are clogging up networks

April 7, 2010

In spite of the fact that we will be paying £6 -a-year tax on landlines to enable a faster cable broadband network, the public is showing a preference for mobile data networks. The big 5 mobile phone companies all offer powerful, internet-connected smartphones packed with apps able to surf the net, email and access social networking sites on the move. Customers love the range of apps available to them and 950 apps a day are being added to the 150,000 already in the App Store for iPhone. So what is the problem?

Over Xmas, O2, the UK’s biggest network with 3 million smartphones users -2million of these are iPhones-  suffered clogging up of its 3G data service. The sheer number of connections made by smartphones was the root of the problem. Derek McManus, O2’s chief technology officer admits that phones loaded with apps often exhibit ‘chatty’ behaviour. For example, the app that looks for Facebook messages connects with the network every eight seconds. When you are not making a phonecall, or surfing the web, or downloading data, your iPhone is still checking for messages, or email, more than 7 times per minute and tying up the software used by the nearest phone mast. This repetitive activity can deny another user a connection and/or slow down the connections. Because of the growth in apps the situation is getting worse as every month passes. The arrival of Apple iPad will strain services even further. During the 18months that O2 had exclusive contracts with iPhone, the amount of traffic sent over its data network increased 20-fold and is continuing to double every 4 months!

In order to resolve this problem we need more transmitters -the more phone masts we have available the easier it becomes to supply us with a faster service and the less clogged our networks. O2 spent £30m in 2009 erecting more masts in and around London. The merger of T-Mobile and Orange later this year should enable them to be more flexible regarding connections. However, to meet the predicted rise in traffic we need 4G, known as LTE, and trials of one single 4G network in Slough already has the same data-carrying capacity as the entire 3G system of one of the big five. However, it is going to take years to go 4G countrywide and the bad news is that 4g requires new masts AND new handsets too …. so your iPhone is only compatible with the present 3G networks. We are stuck with a 3G system that rarely achieves advertised mobile network speeds of 7.2mps. A survey of 50,000 mobile network users found the following average UK network speeds:

Vodafone  1.186mbps

T-Mobile 1.089mbps

O2 0.929 mbps

Three 0.920mbps

Orange 0.823mbps

When speeds are ranked by region they range from the fastest Northern England 1.046mbps to the slowest Northern Ireland 0.659mbps – which is below the level required for broadband. By comparison, the average speed of landline broadband connection is 4.1mbps, according to Ofcom- about 15% of the UK population still cannot get a 3G signal. We really need more investment in the UK’s mobile phone network to provide good 3G signals across Britain.


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