Speed matters for the mobile web

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We all remember when it was accepted to wait a few seconds for a computer to respond to a click on a web site or a tap on a keyboard? These days, even half a second — literally the blink of an eye — is too long. That barely perceptible delay causes people to search less according to Google. “We don’t like to wait, every millisecond matters”. Google and other tech companies are on a new pursuit for speed. The reason is the ever increasing number of smartphones and tablets that are creating annoying digital traffic jams, as people download maps, video clips of sports highlights, news updates or recommendations for nearby restaurants. The competition to be the quickest is fierce, and we are more likely to switch if we find a faster site. A web site’s performance can vary a lot, as can user expectations. A person will be more patient waiting for a video clip to load than for a search result. And web sites now face compromises between visual richness and rapid response times all the time. As a lot of sites now offer more video clips and interactive graphics, which can slow things down.

But speed matters in every context, research shows. Four out of five online users will click away if a video stalls while loading. On a mobile phone, a web page takes approximately six to nine seconds to load, according to Google, which tracks a huge range of sites from the homes of large companies to the legions of one-person bloggers. Download times on personal computers average about four to six seconds worldwide. The major search engines, Google and Microsoft’s Bing, are the speed wizards of the web, often delivering results in less than a second.

The hunger for speed on smartphones is quickly becoming a new business opportunity. Companies like Akamai Technologies now specialize in helping web sites deliver services quicker. Akamai plan to introduce mobile accelerator software to speed up these web sites later this month. Also as the governments also recognise the importance of speed in mobile computing, they will soon open the doors to increase network capacity for mobile devices.

Overcoming speed bumps has always been part of the history of the Internet. In the 1990s, as the World Wide Web became popular, and quickly crowded, it was called the World Wide Wait, especially with the slower connections we had then. Invention and investment answered the call which has led us to where we are today. The investment in fiber optic cable for high-speed transmission was the first solution. But beyond bandwidth, the web got faster because of innovations in software algorithms for routing traffic, and in distributing computer servers around the world, nearer to users, as a way to increase speed. Akamai, which grew out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Laboratory for Computer Science, built its sizable business doing just that. Most major web sites use their technology today.

TSW – Systems Solutions see the Mobile Internet as the next big challenge. Users’ expectations are getting shorter and shorter, and the mobile infrastructure is not yet built for that kind of speed. And we see that as an opportunity. Speed Matters!

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