Cut the latency – To boost performance in mobile networks

With the evolution of mobile technology generations, we have seen a sharp increase in speed. Today’s 4G LTE networks are more than 100 times faster on average than 2G networks and 10 times faster than 3G networks according to Open Signal. Looking forward to 5G networks, the goal is clear. We intend to keep increasing network speeds.

speed comparison across mobile technolgies

However, there is more to mobile network performance than speed.

In a 2015 blog post, Tammy Everets demonstrated that increasing bandwidth up to 1233% accelerated web page download by just 55%. It seems that we have invested endless resources to get an improvement, but a limited one. This raises the question about additional factors affective performance and how we should be splitting our investment to achieve the most bang from the buck.

In 2010, Google’s Mike Belshe published a report with the candid title “More Bandwidth Doesn’t Matter (much)”, which examines the impact of round-trip-time (AKA latency) on performance. The report compares the performance boost derived from increasing bandwidth versus reducing the latency. As you can see form the charts below, there impact of latency on the effective bandwidth is huge.

Effective bandwidth as a function of bandwidth and latency

Looking back 20 years, an eternity in communications technology, Stuart Cheshire from Stanford already had the facts straight when he announced “It’s the Latency, Stupid”. His report states that:

  • Fact One: Making more bandwidth is easy. It may not be cheap, but at least it’s possible.
  • Fact Two: Once you have bad latency you’re stuck with it.

He has a point. Across the same mobile generations where speeds have increased 100 fold, latency has decreased by a much smaller factor of 4.5.

latency comparison across mobile technolgies

It seems that reducing the latency in mobile networks is tough. At least it was before the Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) standard was created by ETSI.

MEC slashes the mobile network latency by delivering applications and services directly from the Radio Access Network (RAN). By operating as close as possible to mobile users and the Internet of Things (IoT), MEC solutions minimize the round-trip-time and reduce network congestion.

With MEC gaining momentum, mobile network operators have an effective tool for boosting performance without investing in the costly rollout of out bigger and faster pipes.