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Mobile Delivery Matters, so Speed Up Your Site

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As a result, publishers will not hesitate to boot slow-loading ads off their mobile sites, a trend we have been seeing on the nonmobile internet for some time. So latency for mobile advertising has a higher opportunity cost and a higher risk, both of which are complicated by the fact that serving any content over mobile networks is far less predictable due to differences in device capabilities—not to mention, the varying behavior of HTTP and TCP, which can compound latency to aggravate an already bad latency problem, and the huge variability in network performance. So mobile advertising networks will put a tremendous premium on anything that can reduce latency and allow them to be more confident in fast delivery of their content.

In a similar vein, online offer-based engagement advertising in social games, such as FarmVille, is incredibly reliant on fast load times with even faster abandon rates. Latency, thus, can be even more painful because an advertiser that broadcasts an engagement offer, such as a promotional video that requires completion but interrupts the user experience with a wait time for loading media, will not only lose the engage- ment payment, but it will also have to eat the cost of network resources. Even worse, aborted engagements will cause advertisers to move to other options. Big brands hate wasting their time and money, and they won’t put up with latency issues for long.

These types of richer engagements put greater demands on mobile networks and start to blur the boundaries of mobile apps and mobile content from the internet. The blurred bound- aries can mean novel mobile-use cases, which threaten to choke mobile networks. DoAT, for example, launched a novel search capability that takes mobile search queries and quickly routes users to relevant mobile apps that are actually called through a browser. So someone who searches for “godfather” could well end up finger swiping between Netflix and other movie-related apps, an activity that is particularly unforgiving for latency, considering the swipe factor implies instant gratification.

In a social network setting, failure to provide personalized content quickly on mobile devices will reduce advertising revenues for the network. A number of the largest social networks are now using or piloting mobile content acceleration platforms from CDNs to ensure that their users, who chat, play social games, and share photos and movies on the network, all remain tightly engaged. This type of highly personalized content is difficult to cache and extremely dynamic. This, as I discussed in a post on StreamingMediaBlog.com, is something that CDNs that are only focused on video or small object delivery simply can’t handle. All of these use cases offer reasons why publishers and businesses are turning to mobile-centric CDN solutions to deliver content faster and to reduce latency and round-trip visits to the origin server.

Equally important to the business reasons I already mentioned (which all focus on improving user experience to maximize revenues and monetization) is the new reality that mobile businesses need to quickly dial up their network capabilities in order to maintain good user-experience quality levels. VocalWall allows Facebook users to leave an audio clip as a wall comment. When the service took off, largely due to use on mobile devices, VocalWall was ready with a mobile-specific CDN and content acceleration program that allowed it to scale up effortlessly. This allows it to promise to big brands that in advertising on the platform or using its paid offering, end users will not have a high-latency experience under the support of that brand.

On the upside, in mobile content delivery, very small changes can reap huge rewards. For example, according to Keynote Systems, when Dell reduced the footprint of its mobile homepage by 24 kilobytes, it sliced the download time of the page by a whopping 2.74 seconds. Because the average mobile page download has 46 different components, there are huge opportunities for CDNs that are focused on mobile and commerce to use intelligence to make small changes that dramatically reduce latency.

For example, mobile content acceleration services that can cache certain JavaScript elements, which are generally loaded and reloaded for every page on a site in a CDN server close to the user, can slash microseconds of round-trip times, a change that might translate into a multisecond reduction in load time. And by speeding up round-trip times for pages, the mobile CDN offering will not only reduce immediate latency but also compounded latency resulting from TCP assigning slower requests to a lower transport priority, creating a downward spiral of bad performance that often ends with the user clicking the back button or being forced to reload the page.

The conclusions of this are pretty simple. Now that there is real money in mobile, bad performance is a more painful problem that hits revenue numbers and corporate profitability. At the same time, the evolution of mobile behaviors and use cases (for users, publishers, and advertisers) underscores the need for new ways to overcome weakness in wireless data network delivery to ensure that content arrival on handsets can hold users and maintain high engagement rates. Fortunately, some CDNs are starting to think about these business problems and have started offering mobile content acceleration platforms, laying the groundwork for a parallel CDN technology solely focused on mobile, which integrates nicely within existing CDN offerings. But a lot of work is still ahead, and many CDNs don’t yet have a true mobile video offering in the market, let alone a mobile acceleration one.

CDN vendors that don’t start addressing these developments in the market and start offering mobile delivery platforms are going to have a very hard time diversifying their businesses and growing their revenue over time. This is the next chapter of the CDN business, and it’s developing in real time right now.

This article originally ran in the October/November 2011 issue of Streaming Media under the title "The Business Case for Mobile Content Acceleration." 

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