Mobile Trends in SEA
Mobile apps govern our lives, from kicking off the day with the news app to making a restaurant reservation or sharing experiences with our network and friends. For almost everything we do, we rely on mobile apps to provide a one-tap solution and Southeast Asia is no exception.
While the mobile internet takeover from desktop is old news, it's growth rates in Southeast Asia are nothing short of phenomenal. The region (along with India) is the leading source of mobile internet growth, which has added more than 500 million new internet users globally in the period 2014-17. Countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines have a significantly larger number of mobile connections vs. the current population, however the internet penetration stands at a low 50%. That's where the next few hundred million internet users are expected to come from.
Another significant trend is mobile app adoption, which has grown by 49% in countries like India.* And while mobile was used primarily for discovery and 'window shopping' till a couple of years ago, mobile apps specifically account for up to 70% of conversions and revenues in the eCommerce industry today. This is a huge opportunity and an equal challenge for companies competing to be "the chosen app" for users, given a limited space allocation on their phones.
The evolution of the internet
However, this has created its own set of challenges, which we can understand better by looking at the evolution of the internet. The foundation of the internet was laid in the labs of the U.S. Department of Defense back in the 1970s. Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) is the backbone over which the communication flows between networks and is analogous to the use of English as an international language today. As old as the internet itself, TCP was built to connect to a few 'super computers' placed in specific locations connected to hard-wired networks. Initially, every computer on the network was uniquely identifiable, and information could be sent to it by simply addressing its IP address. The internet today is significantly different, with a majority of communication taking place via mobile devices.
Disadvantages of TCP
TCP worked great on wired networks and desktop computers, but the protocol is challenged by the high latency, lossy nature and variability of cellular and Wi-Fi networks. Some of the disadvantages of TCP on mobile devices include:
TCP is a chatty protocol over slow connections. In high latency mobile networks where latency could be in multiples of a hundred milliseconds, TCP would require multiple round trips just to form a connection over which HTTP/s packets flow. Every round trip in high latency has a huge cost of performance to pay. To add to it, TCP has a slow start with a 3-way handshake, being extremely cautious in sending packets and thereby underutilizing even the limited bandwidth available.
Mishandling of packet loss. TCP was built almost four decades back for hard-wired networks when mobile wasn't in existence and packet loss wasn't an issue. However, packet loss is a reality in wireless networks with anywhere between 5% on Wi-Fi to 15% on 2G. Here is a link to our Mobile Observatory report, which captures metrics like packet loss, disconnects and failure rates that impact the user experience. India ranks high on the list for packet loss and disconnects. When TCP mistakes packet loss for network congestion, it reduces the sending rate significantly. This means that less data is transferred with every round trip and performance is degraded.
- Poor recovery from network disconnect. With users constantly on the move, devices move from one network to another, frequently causing the IP to change. Examples of network changes could be a transition from 4G to 2G, entering a Wi-Fi zone, while on the road the device disconnects from one network tower to renegotiate a connection with another tower in the vicinity causing a 'dead zone.' And while the timeouts are maintained high, it doesn't solve the issue as the sessions are maintained on IPs which are constantly changing. That leads to a significant wastage of resources as all the existing data is discarded and downloaded from scratch again. Mobility of users didn't exist when TCP was born but is pretty much the norm today.
The PacketZoom Advantage
At PacketZoom, we have created a disruptive technology to mitigate the last mile challenges for mobile apps. Here are some of the innovative solutions we provide.
- Cutting down on roundtrips. Building a platform that is network and geo aware to make intelligent and quick decisions on the data to be sent from the first request. This allows cutting down extra round trips as well as sending maximum data in the least time possible.
- Resend lost packets. A solution that is able to accurately differentiate between network congestion and packet loss and then resend only the lost packets without reducing the bandwidth will ensure the transaction is completed in the shortest possible time.
- Identify parameters that are static in nature as compared to the dynamic IP address. A good example is the unique device ID that could be used to maintain session persistence even during disconnects. This allows the session to be continued from where it was dropped instead of downloading the data all over again.
It's never easy to replace a forty year old protocol. But the bottom line is that we are living in a mobile-first world, especially here in Southeast Asia, and all the players in the mobile ecosystem must band together to develop solutions improving app performance across cellular networks and Wi-Fi networks. Otherwise, those mobile apps governing our lives will never reach their full potential.
*Source - Adobe Digital Insights 2017