Facebook's mobile redesign drives total wireless traffic up 5-10%, study finds

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A November update to Facebook's (NASDAQ:FB) iOS and Android apps increased overall signaling traffic and airtime consumption on mobile networks by 5-10 percent, found network vendor Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE:ALU) in a new study. The findings offer clear insight into the massive weight that Facebook commands in the mobile app market as well as the importance of app design and how that design can affect traffic levels on wireless networks.

Lindsay Newell, vice president of the Marketing Networks and Platforms Group at Alcatel-Lucent, wrote that Facebook's Nov. 15 update to its iOS and Android app caused a "dramatic increase of almost 60 percent in the signaling load and 25 percent in the airtime consumed by the Facebook application." Newell said that during the period Facebook's user base increased by only 4 percent, which indicates that the design of Facebook's app directly contributed to the overall increase in mobile data traffic.

"This 5-10 percent increase in signaling and/or airtime translates directly into a 5-10 percent increase in radio capacity requirement (i.e. CAPEX investment) to continue delivering the same service," wrote Newell, adding that Facebook's November update also could shorten the battery life of users' phones.

Newell blamed the increase in traffic on the introduction of new Facebook features for mobile users and the app's underlying platform changes. On Facebook's features, Newell specifically pointed to video traffic, which Newell noted grew a "whopping" 350 percent in volume since the Nov. 15 launch.

"This change is driven by more users enjoying new features such as sharing their news feeds," Newell wrote. "It is interesting that Facebook-chat traffic decreased during that same period (17 percent fewer users), indicating that users formerly using chat to communicate might be starting to use Messenger and embedded videos (+6 percent and +154 percent more users, respectively)."

Facebook didn't immediately respond to Alcatel-Lucent's findings.

Alcatel-Lucent's numbers draw a stark line around the growing importance of mobile apps, and how changes in those apps can affect mobile network traffic patterns. Moreover, any changes implemented by Facebook could have major implications for network providers--Facebook edged out Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Maps to claim the No. 1 spot among U.S. apps this month, according to a new report from comScore.

And Facebook appears keen to continue to drive mobile network traffic. The company this month added in-app video recording and sharing capabilities as well as voice messaging options to its iOS app, shortly after expanding free VoIP calling to all Facebook Messenger app users in the United States.

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