Mobile Battery Life: your choice of mobile operator could be significant

A while ago I wrote that mobile battery life, alongside data connections, was one of the major barriers to mobile content and mobile marketing. Boring as it may seem, the battery life is highly relevant to brand marketing. A typical smartphone user will have to plug their device in around 4pm on a typical working day. If they are out and about and are on the last few percent of their battery, then they are likely to save their juice for texting their loved ones. The point is that the amount of power used will be a factor in whether people choose to engage with a brand through apps or the mobile web.


Another interesting fact to surface recently (well, interesting to me at least) as a factor in battery life is also the network you are on. In order for a mobile device to stay connected to the network, it must ‘poll’ a base station to do so. The point is that the phone sends the signal to find where it is, rather than the base station going looking for phones. With SMS and voice it’s pretty simple and uses a tiny amount of data for a few milliseconds. However, when it comes to connecting mobile web, and apps in particular, some of them require the handset to poll frequently, and use much more data. Imagine a Facebook app which runs on the phone in the background all the time. That app, along with weather, news etc are all looking to constantly update themselves. That means that your average smartphone is polling the networks up to 1000 per day. And each time it polls it will use a quite a bit of data and take a few seconds. If you want to see the impact on your battery life, simply turn off your connectivity when you’re not accessing email, apps or the internet and the life-span will leap up. So, even if you’re not trying to watch an HD video on YouTube, the very action of having your smartphone connected means that there is a big impact on your battery.

From a mobile network point of view, if there are thousands or even millions of smartphones polling them, it uses a lot of data and creates something called a ‘signalling storm’. The interesting bit is that some mobile operators are better at this polling than others. Whilst it may take a few seconds on some networks, others have managed to reduce this process to just a few hundred milliseconds. From a user perspective that means a longer batter – as much as 25% longer.

Significantly the networks with a more efficient polling system have more capacity and therefore better data connections. I have often joked that it was the iphone users constantly updating their Facebook statuses that has compromised O2’s data network. Although O2 puts it down to around 3% of users watching videos, that may just be part of the problem. If a majority of iphone users have their Facebook app on all the time, then it will be constantly polling for status updates etc, whether the user chooses to make an update or not. So, a large part of their data capacity may be taken up with users’ phones polling for updates. The YouTube watchers may just be the straw breaking the camel’s back.

Do we know which networks have better polling than the others? At the moment, no. But given how competitive they are, who knows when someone will start advertising their network is giving both better data and a longer battery life for their smartphone users.

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