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Another Congestion Culprit: OS Updates

Sarah Thomas

2:20 PM -- There's a new perpetrator to blame for mobile congestion, and it's not YouTube Inc. this time. In studying its wireless operator customers' networks, mobile Internet optimization vendor Flash Networks found that operating system upgrades often consumed more bandwidth than watching video on mobile.

Flash looked at upgrades to Android and Windows Phone in North America and Europe, and learned that the amount of network bandwidth consumed by OS updates can threaten network performance, especially when the updates occur during peak traffic periods. With more updates happening over the air, including for Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s iOS 5, it could create more network woes for the operators.

Flash Networks is all about helping the wireless operators optimize their network for issues like this one, so it's not surprising it is pointing out the problem. But, it does add to the notion that the capacity crunch is multifaceted and hard to eradicate. Operators are under pressure to get out OS updates as soon as they're available and, on platforms like Android and Windows Phone, the updates are frequent and often large.

For example, Flash points out that Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) issues security updates on "Patch Tuesdays," the second Tuesday of each month, as well as smaller updates on a daily or biweekly basis. One European operator saw its consumed network bandwidth rise from 3.7 percent to 18.2 percent during one such Patch Tuesday. In the U.S., a Windows update took traffic from 4.5 percent to 20 percent. For Android, 15 percent increases in traffic owing to OS updates exceeded the bandwidth used for watching YouTube videos.

Software makers aren't going to issue fewer or smaller OS updates, just like apps developers still aren't considering signaling chatter and consumers don't take into account peak traffic times when they want to watch a video. All this adds up to a significant challenge for mobile operators, and one that will take a solution that is as multifaceted as the problem itself.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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12/5/2012 | 5:43:48 PM
re: Another Congestion Culprit: OS Updates

I've seen this effect when doing automated load and performance testing.  However, one culprit that may be overlooked is that the CPU utilization on the target (cellphone, computer with dongle, etc.) substantially increases when updates are being pushed.  Since the underlying protocol for transfering the data is TCP, and since TCP is delay senstitive, it reduces the throughput (under the assumption that network congestion is the delay mechanism whereas an increase in CPU utilization is the culprit).

On a computer with a dongle, the performance really degrades if virus scanning turns on; the performance limiter is almost solely due to a slowed-down processor.

Thanks for the interesting reading.

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