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Are Cellular Networks a Bottleneck for Our Mobile Future?

In late June I came across a news article on the online marketing company Criteo's "State of Mobile Commerce" Q2 2015 report. According to this report mobile transactions now accounts for 30% of all online transactions. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone; everybody knows that the world has gone mobile and the move continues with the latest developments such as Pinterest adding a "Buy" button, Google announcing Android Pay and a "Buy" button on mobile ads and Twitter letting marketers target consumers based on their mobile apps.
The equation is simple; people are using their mobile devices for everything, everywhere, anytime and companies are finding new ways to reach out to or connect with end users on mobile devices. However, in this equation there is a common denominator that affects both users and companies; connectivity.
When it comes to mobile websites and mobile apps, your mobile device needs to be connected to the Internet either via a Wi-Fi (think using free Wi-Fi at a café) or a cellular network (think using your iPhone's GPS in your car).

When you are using a home Wi-Fi network, usually the connection is strong and dedicated to a small number of people at one location at a given time. However, when you are using a 3rd-party Wi-Fi or a cellular network connection, the conditions can vary significantly. Especially, the cellular networks can be congested and unpredictable. The bandwidth fluctuates with the changing number of users; more users mean less bandwidth, therefore slower websites and apps. Network providers invest in their Radio Access Network (in other words their cell towers) to provide better connectivity, but it's not easy to predict the number of users engaging a tower at any given instance. Add the peak online traffic factor to this equation and it looks like this: a person connecting to a popular site at peak traffic over a busy cellular network has a very different experience (very slow) compared to a person who visits the same site off hours or over Wi-Fi (much faster).

These are taken for granted for mobile users, but especially the cellular network piece is not even considered by site/app/content owners when designing their web experiences for their end users: "Cellular networks can be unpredictable and congested and it is what it is."

One company, Akamai is set to change this by partnering with cellular networks (or mobile network operators (MNOs) or wireless carriers as these terms are used interchangeably). Akamai is deploying Akamai Intelligent Platform servers on the cellular providers' core networks. Even though most of the congestion and bandwidth problems are within the radio access network, between the cell towers and the mobile end users, and not between the Internet and the mobile core networks, reducing the latency during cellular networks connection to the Internet results in significant performance optimizations, especially if congestion is leading to packet loss. Payload, image efficiencies as well as reducing the round trip time on a lossy network is just the beginning. Akamai is also working with mobile network operators on congestion management techniques that increase performance by making the network more "content aware".

The end result is and will continue to be much faster mobile sites/apps even over cellular connections as Akamai's content delivery network is now much closer to end users. When mobile is the way of the future, there is no such thing as a bottleneck, technology will find a way and mobile experiences will only get better.