What mobile data throttling means for site owners
With the ongoing explosion of mobile-only internet users, data consumption on cell networks is a huge problem that – based on current trends – stands to get much worse. To illustrate the point, let’s look at some numbers:
- A recent Cisco report estimates the number of mobile-only users will swell to 788 million by 2015. (There were 14 million in 2010.)
- The same report estimated the average monthly mobile data volume in 2011 to be 597 petabytes – roughly 625 million gigabytes.
- Customers are using mobile data for much more than just "mobile-optimized" sites. Many customers are treating mobile just as they would desktop, downloading games and apps, streaming music, watching videos, using GPS, and playing online games.
- Mobile video traffic exceeded 50% of mobile bandwidth in 2011, with an estimated 31 million accessing video on mobile devices.
- 33% of Facebook’s traffic in 2011 came from mobile, as did 55% of Twitter’s traffic and 60% of Pandora’s.
What does this mean for site owners?
Data is the lifeblood of mobile commerce, and restricting it has only negative implications for site owners. A main goal of site owners is (or should be) to deliver a seamless user experience regardless of device, and this cannot be accomplished without a free flow of data.
There’s no easy solution here, only measures that can be taken to minimize the problem.
Solution 1: Consumers will self-educate on data usage.
Con: Some users will self-monitor their data usage, some won’t. Overall, we’re not wired to consume our media this way.
Solution 2: Consumers will use wi-fi instead of their 2G/3G/4G network.
Pro: Using a wi-fi hot spot doesn’t count against monthly data allotments.
Con: Like data usage, the average mobile user isn’t going to put the work in to constantly monitor what mode they’re in. (Nor should they, in our opinion.)
Solution 3: Carriers will continue to impose data caps and throttle high-bandwidth users.
Pro: From a carrier’s perspective, the numbers cited earlier in this post make a compelling argument for throttling. Some may be challenged to keep up their data usage commitments.
Con: Throttling effectively destroys the user experience. It’s also not a great long-term strategy for carriers, as given current data usage trends, the average person’s usage will soon equal that of a "power user". If everyone is a power user, does that mean everyone ultimately is throttled? It’s easy to see why this is a dead-end street for carriers.
Solution 4: Site owners will funnel users toward leaner "mobile-optimized" sites.
Pro: Modern websites are designed for big screens. They send high-resolution images that are unnecessarily high quality for mobile phones, and these big images bloat pages. Serving leaner, stripped-down pages to mobile users is a relatively easy way to deal with this problem.
Con: We believe this solution is deeply flawed. Mobile-optimized sites don’t render properly on tablets, which are technically mobile devices. Further, users don’t want a stripped-down online experience.
Solution 5: Site owners will explore new technologies to solve the mobile bandwidth problem.
Pro: There's no fix-all solution to the bandwidth problem. The real solution will be a combination of new solutions — including, yes, advanced front-end optimization solutions like Strangeloop’s — as well as mobile-specific content delivery networks and infrastructure investments.
Con: Site owners must understand that bandwidth is everyone’s problem. Delivering unnecessarily huge (and unnecessarily slow) pages to mobile users will result in lost traffic and lower conversion rates, as throttled users view fewer pages and spend less money.
How Strangeloop can help reduce mobile data usage
Strangeloop’s Mobile Optimizer features a groundbreaking suite of features aimed at helping site owners make their sites more data-efficient and deliver a better user experience for mobile users.
These are just two of the features in Mobile Optimizer aimed at improving the end-user experience for mobile customers. To learn more, visit the official Mobile Optimizer product page.