May 2, 2012, 1:01 PM

Wireless network speeds vary widely, and retailers need to adapt

Speeds range from 163 kilobits per second to 20 megabits per second, Akamai finds.

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In the fourth quarter of 2011, the average wireless connection speed for 103 wireless carriers worldwide ranged from a high of 5.0 megabits per second, or Mbps, to a low of 163 kilobits per second, or Kbps, according to a new study by content delivery network and performance technology provider Akamai Technologies Inc. Approximately 75% of wireless carriers had average connection speeds above 1 Mbps. The measurements include a mix of 2G, 3G and 4G wireless networks.

Analysis of peak connection speeds for wireless carriers worldwide shows there is a wide range of speeds. For example, a carrier in Germany that had an average peak connection speed of 23.4 Mbps was the fastest while a carrier in Thailand was the slowest at 1.6 Mbps. Of all the mobile providers analyzed, only three—one in Germany, one in Austria and one in Canada—achieved average peak connection speeds above 20.0 Mbps, while 32 achieved average peak connection speeds above 10.0 Mbps and 48 recorded average peak connection speeds greater than 5.0 Mbps. Only two mobile providers surveyed did not achieve an average peak connection speed above 2.0 Mbps.

In the U.S., the wireless carrier with the highest average connection speed—2.0 Mbps—also had the highest average peak connection speed—5.7 Mbps, Akamai finds.

“With the explosive use of devices, the mobile networks are now facing the strain of the equally exploding demands in capacity, on a mobile network architecture that was originally built with voice, not data, in mind,” says Lelah Manz, chief strategist of e-commerce at Akamai.  “The good news is that mobile networks are becoming progressively faster while increasing their capacity. However, they still face congestion and therefore data loss, especially during peak demand hours.”

To combat poor wireless carrier performance, retailers in mobile commerce can keep their mobile sites slim and trim and keep the number of server requests low. Taking these steps helps ensure an m-commerce site can be loaded as quickly as possible under good or poor network conditions, experts say.

“Retailers today are smart to continue adapting content for the device—both in user experience and in size,” Manz says.

Akamai hosts data for its clients on 105,000 servers in 78 countries so information required to build a web page when requested by a device is as geographically close to that device as possible, thus speeding performance. Akamai also offers other mobile performance technologies. In Q4 2012 it will add technology that reduces the number of requests required to load a page, reduces the size of each request, and enhances browser rendering, whether served to a PC, tablet or smartphone, the company says. These techniques, Manz says, are expected to have a dramatic impact on performance on mobile devices.

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