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E-Mail Is Biggest Mobile Resource Hog

E-mail puts a much heavier load on 3G networks than Web surfing or peer-to-peer applications, according to Alcatel-Lucent ( (ALU))'s research wing, Bell Laboratories. Mike Schabel, a research director at Bell Labs, said on Thursday that P2P and Web surfing account for much of the volume of data carried by mobile broadband networks, but inefficiently managed applications, such as email, are the biggest resource hogs. "In wireless data, there is a false belief that high-volume users will use a lot of wireless resources, and low-volume users will use less," Schabel said at a roundtable event in London. "Every wireless application uses resources with different efficiencies. Operators can't just focus on how much traffic is sent—they have to consider how the traffic is sent. We need to be much smarter about how we deliver the bits and bytes and handle the transactions." According to Schabel, e-mail hits networks hard because of phones constantly polling the server to check for new messages. Mobile email consumes around 69% of a wireless data network's signalling resources, despite only accounting for around 4% of the volume of data carried by the network, he said. Web surfing, on the other hand, accounts for around 70% of wireless network data volume, but uses only around 12% of the signalling resources, Schabel said. He added that P2P applications—frequently thought of as resource-intensive—are in fact highly efficient. "Email is more resource-intensive," Schabel said. "Peer-to-peer is the most efficient application running on wireless networks today. This is not to say it's not an issue with volume, but it's very efficient." Schabel added that many new smartphone applications—such as location-based services, weather updates, stock tickers and secure transactions—look to the network "like email" because they also constantly come in and out of the network. "This is a very challenging problem for wireless operators," he said. According to Schabel, in the past 18 months wireless network operators have experienced "a deluge of data", due to the emergence of new devices such as netbooks and smartphones—for example, the iPhone. Faster network speeds and the rapidly growing number of rich mobile applications also encourage people to use 3G networks, he said. He pointed out that, while operators are seeing increasing data revenue, network congestion is worsening the customer experience and causing support costs to rise. "Sometimes the answer is capacity-building—but the right capacity, for the right reasons," Schabel said.
Meyer is a senior writer for Gigaom.

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