Facebook's Signaling Chatter Grows Louder

Next Generation Communications Blog

Facebook's Signaling Chatter Grows Louder

By Lindsay Newell, VP, Marketing Networks & Platforms Group, Alcatel-Lucent


Our last few blog posts on mobile intelligence focused on how changes to devices and their operating systems can affect both the user experience and the network in positive and negative ways as detected using the 9900 Wireless Network Guardian. Today we will explore the impact of changes introduced by a new version of a popular application.

Last year, Facebook released new versions of their mobile app for Android and iOS. Prior to the new release, Facebook signaling and airtime already accounted for 10% and 15% of the overall load on 2G/3G networks, respectively.  As users around the world updated and started to use this new version, we quickly noticed a dramatic increase of almost 60% in the signaling load and 25% in the airtime consumed by the Facebook application.  During the same period, the number of Facebook users increased by only 4%.   Clearly, it is not the swelling of Facebook’s community that intensified the load, but rather the introduction of new Facebook features for mobile users and underlying platform changes.

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The effect on service provider networks was significant, driving up overall (total) signaling traffic and airtime consumption by 5-10%.  An application design change by Facebook can be innocuous for fixed line and WiFi users, but can significantly boost the cost of delivery for mobile service operators.   This 5-10% increase in signaling and/or airtime translates directly into a 5-10% increase in radio capacity requirement (i.e. CAPEX investment) to continue delivering the same service.

So this is obviously of concern to a mobile operator, but why should Facebook care?  The simple answer – you!  Higher signaling and airtime usage can directly affect battery life.  While today, the increase is likely too small to impose noticeable threat to battery life, we did see a huge jump in signaling with this release.  If signaling continues to increase at this rate in future releases, a large portion of users may start to notice that they need to charge up more frequently.

Another trend we detected was an increase in popularity of Facebook video traffic — a whopping 350% increase in volume since the November 15th launch — the most growth of all Facebook traffic. Unlike signaling where the updated software was responsible for the increase,  this change is driven by more users enjoying new features such as sharing their news feeds.   It is interesting that Facebook-chat traffic decreased during that same period (17% fewer users), indicating that users formerly using chat to communicate might be starting to use Messenger and embedded videos (+6% and +154% more users, respectively).  While insignificant from a signaling perspective, the growing appetite for high bandwidth applications like video means service providers must account for bandwidth growth as the use of video continues to rise.

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The bottom line – as we continue to feed our mobile applications habit, app developers will need to better consider the implications of their design decisions on the wireless network resources.  Optimizing signaling has big benefits for both the service providers and consumers –  including better user experience at a more reasonable price and a big one for all of us — longer battery life.



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