Do Mobile Usage Caps Really Block App Development?

Do high prices for mobile Internet access, or limited usage caps, really block a cycle of virtuous app development? Some think so.

“While fees remain high, the virtuous cycle of development and user deployment that drives the demand for bandwidth can’t get started,” says Mark Pesce, a contributor to The Register. “Killer mobile apps never make it through the development process.”

Maybe not. Smartphones are to some extent content consumption devices, and also content creation devices, to the extent that taking photos and videos and sharing them is an act of content creation.

In 2011, for example, video entertainment represented 42 percent of all mobile Internet data consumption, according to Allot Communications.

File sharing represented 26 percent of mobile Internet data bandwidth.  Web browsing represented 24 percent of bandwidth consumption from mobile devices.

Moreover, Internet traffic is shifting to devices other than PCs. Over half of all IP traffic will originate with non-PC devices by 2018. By 2018 the non-PC share of total IP traffic will grow to 57 percent, according to Cisco.

Traffic from wireless and mobile devices will exceed traffic from wired devices by 2018, as well, Cisco predicts. What that suggests is that many of the activities and apps people use will shift from PCs to mobiles.

That means consumption of entertainment video. By 2018, global IP video traffic will be 79 percent of all consumer Internet traffic.

That does not include video exchanged through peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing. Adding in P2P video, all forms of video (TV, video on demand, Internet, and P2P) will be in the range of 80 to 90 percent of global consumer traffic by 2018.

The point is that bandwidth, as such, is not a barrier to app development or innovation. People are choosing to consume video, at least so far the heaviest bandwidth consumer, and that drives bandwidth demand.

If developers and business strategists had been able to come up with big new apps that use as much bandwidth as video, and if people really wanted to use those apps, they could.

Sure, bandwidth and access speed so far in excess of current app requirements should lead to creation of apps and features that use lots of bandwidth.

Whether that results in lots of innovation or not is hard to say.

When computing cycles got cheap, software developers often just wrote what some might call “sloppy code” and created “bloatware.”

In the earlier days, coding had to be economical because computing resources were relatively expensive. These days, coding efficiency might be nice, but is often unnecessary. People can “waste cycles.”

It is hard to argue that lack of bandwidth (in the form of caps) or access speeds really are a major barrier to app development in developed markets.

But compelling apps and business models that require lots of bandwidth have been relatively few, beyond entertainment video.

So some might argue that human ingenuity and user demand are the key barriers, not speeds and feeds. Faster networks and devices are nice. But, so far, the new mass apps requiring lots of bandwidth and usage caps are pretty “dumb.”

As some of us might be tempted to say, “all this work, all this capability and power and we use it to watch television.” Really?

Spectrum Futures 2014

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