Operators Urge Action Against Chatty Apps

LONDON -- Open Mobile Summit -- Representatives from some of Europe's largest operators called for action here on Wednesday to prevent mobile applications from overloading their networks with signaling traffic.

That action could take the form of better collaboration between the operators and application developers or even the launch of an operator-led initiative that would result in the publication of best practices or guidelines for app developers by an industry group such as the GSM Association (GSMA) .

Whatever action is taken, it is clear that operators want to crack down on those generators of signaling traffic -- that is, applications that are designed to ping the network very frequently for updates - and they want to deal with this now. (See Operators Fight Back on Smartphone Signaling and Apple Cuts iPhone Signalling Chatter.)

"Collective action is required," said Daniel Gurrola, VP strategy consumer at Orange (NYSE: FTE). "There is a need for issuing guidelines."

During a panel discussion here, South Korea's KT Corp. was mentioned as an example of how the mobile operators could respond to this signaling problem. KT recently suffered network outage where one third-party app took the voice-call success rate down to 10 percent because the signaling traffic generated by the app overloaded its network. The outage was apparently sufficiently bad for the South Korean government to take note and mandate that the three mobile operators -- KT, SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM) and LG Telecom -- get together to issue guidelines on acceptable levels of signaling traffic to prevent such a network crisis from happening again.

At the very least, operators said they want to work more closely with application developers to help them make their apps more network friendly.

"Mobile operators and the apps developer community need to get closer together to test the apps … [we need] to have a better relationship between network operator, handset maker and apps developer," said Kim Larsen, senior VP of technology economics at Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT).

"The ways apps are built could be smarter and more friendly to the network," said Tanya Field, director of mobile data at Telefónica Europe plc (O2) . "[We need to] go out to the developer community. This is something I don't think anyone is doing well at the moment.

"[Developers] should be very interested in working with us to understand how best to use the network," she added. "It's not just in our interest because we're the ones who are funding the whole network."

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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kowsik 12/5/2012 | 5:02:33 PM
re: Operators Urge Action Against Chatty Apps

At Mu Dynamics, we recently released our first App Quadrant that compares various vide services from a consumer and operator friendliness perspective.

Mu App Quadrant

The result were definitley interesting and we were surprised by some aspects of it.

You are absolutely correct that modern apps stress the network in various ways. But the real question is, how much do app developers really care? See this blog that unravels what Netflix does to the network:

Mommy, Netflix is eating my firewall

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 5:02:32 PM
re: Operators Urge Action Against Chatty Apps


The world's simplest DDOS....

<rant on>


<rant off>

Welcome to the real world of Open Systems.



digits 12/5/2012 | 5:02:26 PM
re: Operators Urge Action Against Chatty Apps

Right. The developers are not going to alter the nature of their application just because of capacity and signaling issues on a network.


There are solutions to address this - I know that Neil Montefiore at StarHub in SIngapore said they had a real issue with this and implemented a tech solution to cut the impact of signaling volume with dramatic and very positive results. If StarHuub can do it that means other can, and should, as well.

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 5:02:25 PM
re: Operators Urge Action Against Chatty Apps


Just cuz I am kind of a jerk (just ask Phil), let me drive my point home.

The assumption is that GOOD ACTORS are causing problems.  Apparently, the carriers have not read about the Playstation Debacle - where there are BAD ACTORS.  Let me imagine (do the Wayne's World thing with the hands)....

I am a bad actor and put out a FREE Android app that is very very chatty.  Intentionally chatty.  Now - let's make that app able to view a small amount of porn.  Poof goes the networks.  Free Porn = lots of downloads.  Start it up and crash your network.  Heck make the pics local to the app so the user gets good app service even as the network craters.

If you build your infrastructure in a way that GOOD ACTORS cause problems, then imagine what you under attack!

Glad to hear that one carrier (thank Ray) has the right understanding!



sarahthomas1011 12/5/2012 | 5:02:25 PM
re: Operators Urge Action Against Chatty Apps

I had to roll my eyes when I read the operators are thinking about forming an industry group on it. That's what they always do and not much actually gets done with so many operators teaming up, especially if - as has been said - the developers don't care.

lshannon 12/5/2012 | 5:02:16 PM
re: Operators Urge Action Against Chatty Apps

The earlier comment about StarHub that it's possible to deal with signalling in the network is true.  In a shameless plug for Nokia Siemens Networks, I must mention here that deployment of our Cell_PCH solution in 3G networks decreases signalling by 30% in live networks.

But we're seeing signalling increases in mature markets of 175% and more over a six-month period, as more and more customers buy smartphones and have more and more signalling-generating apps running on them.  So just relying on network fixes isn't going to be enough.  For us as an industry to come to grips with signalling, everyone needs to play nice.  Here's a list of recommendations for each of the industry players that can be done today:

1.  App developers can set their apps to contact the network no more frequently than every 15 minutes or so.  (There are some apps out there that update every 30 seconds, which is just unnecessary.)

2.  Smartphone owners can check to see how many of their apps are doing background updates, and turn off the update action for all but the most essential.  This will hugely increase their battery life, too.

3.  Handset vendors can follow Apple's lead and support Network Controlled Fast Dormancy (3GPP rel 8 Fast Dormancy) and change their existing Fast Dormancy behaviour so that Fast Dormancy is not activated if the backlight is on.  These two actions together can reduce signalling by nearly half.

4.  Operators with Nokia Siemens Networks can activate Network Controlled Fast Dormancy, which will reduce signalling in the NSN portions of their networks by 30% -- once all major smartphones support Network Controlled Fast Dormancy, which should be sometime this year.

Signalling management is one of the most important issues that operators face today, and it's one of the main focuses of our R&D teams.  We've got lots more network ways to reduce signalling coming up in the near future, but it's a bit like driving on the highway -- accident prevention is most effective when everyone follows the traffic rules.  Part of the problem today is that there are no traffic rules, so we do have the equivalent of some people swerving blindly all over the shop, crashing into other drivers without even seeing them. 

It's a great idea for us to get the industry equivalent of traffic rules in place so that the mobile internet performs better for us all.

phil-tw 12/5/2012 | 5:02:16 PM
re: Operators Urge Action Against Chatty Apps

Rovio for example cared enough about the issue to check out their interactive applications before launch. See for example:


It's the always-on part of an app that generates the signalling - and this can be reduced like lshannon says by reducing the frequency to every 15 mins or so.  But the signalling can also be reduced by reducing the size & data speed of the background update that the app asked for.

But both approaches are needed: apps to be network-friendly - and networks to be app-friendly.

Michelle Donegan 12/5/2012 | 5:02:15 PM
re: Operators Urge Action Against Chatty Apps

The staggering thing about all of this is that it is still fallout from the introduction of the iPhone -- oh, so many years ago! Mobile networks (3G) were designed for data capacity, not signaling capacity. So, with the dramatic rise is smartphone usage, operators are still getting caught out by surges in signaling traffic.

Ericsson's head of radio Ulf Ewaldsson recently said that smartphones are creating a momemtum that is probably as big as when we first introduced mobile telephony into the market. 

And from what I've been hearing about signaling problems, it seems operators will be reeling from the smartphone impact for some time to come.

Michelle Donegan 12/5/2012 | 5:02:15 PM
re: Operators Urge Action Against Chatty Apps

i think developers would care if excessive chattiness from their apps actually resulted in access to their app being blocked (if operators are able to do this and can get away with that), or at the very least, the performance of their app being drastically reduced. 


litewate 12/5/2012 | 5:02:00 PM
re: Operators Urge Action Against Chatty Apps

Let's not put all the blame for this issue on the app's developers.  The carriers can share some blame, too.   I recently purchased a couple of Windows phones for my family from AT&T.  Right out of the box, these phones sucked down 10MB of data per day from pre-loaded apps.  Several of these apps are written specifically for the carrier.  Trying to turn off all the mystery data sucking applications was a nightmare.

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