Siri Isn’t The Bandwidth Guzzler That is Ruining Mobile Networks


The Washington Post published a piece titled “Apple’s Siri threatens to damage cellphone service for all” yesterday, which held Siri responsible for excessive load on mobile networks, because of its frequent communication with Apple’s servers. 

The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi claims:

“Siri’s dirty little secret is that she’s a bandwidth guzzler, the digital equivalent of a 10-miles-per-gallon Hummer H1.”

We have, if you recollect, heard the same thing before, when analytics firm Arieso’s report came out, revealing that the iPhone 4S consumes twice the data of an iPhone 4, apparently due to Siri. But there are other factors that contribute to the excessive consumption as well, like high-res images shot by the camera, the faster network and the improved antenna.

From The Washington Post article:

This means that Siri’s data-hogging ways are a problem for more than just those willing to foot the bill. As networks become congested, everyone’s service deteriorates. Private desire becomes a public issue. Calls are dropped or never completed; Internet access slows. First-class airline passengers don’t really compromise service for those in coach. But bandwidth hogs do.

The article paints a very grim future of wireless communications, which due to its limitations could constrain innovation in mobile technology.

As GigaOm rightly points out, Siri is merely the start of a phase where voice interfaces become mainstream, and in many cases the primary interface. Apple marketed Siri in its promotions on TV and print as a major selling point, which means, not just people familiar with technology, but smartphone users in general are using the service on a daily basis. GigaOm’s Stacey Higginbotham also points out that studies have shown Siri hardly consumes any data, but it has made it easier for us to guzzle more data as it makes it easier to surf the web. But should Siri or users be blamed for it?

iPhone isn’t the top shareholder of the smartphone market, and yet carriers can’t cope up with the traffic. Picture a future when, another major OS like Android comes bundled with a similar service, that relies heavily on the network.

The solution to a spectrum crunch coupled with increasing demand for data is, of course, optimization. And that is why services like Onavo are really important.

Talking specifically about Siri – for starters, Apple could do some of the voice processing right on the device, just like the pre-Siri “Voice Control” did. Presently, even for something as simple as playing a song, Apple sends data back and forth to start playing. Apple obviously thought about this and didn’t go for it, possibly because of the syntax-free language of Siri as opposed to Voice Control. But Apple’s 1000 engineers working on next generation chips can, sometime in the future, achieve on-device processing for at least some of these commands, without compromising much performance.

GigaOm, additionally, talks about the validity of the “spectrum crunch” claim:

Stop listening to the carriers, who actually do have spectrum they can deploy if they want to work a little harder and spend a little more, and start thinking about how Wi-Fi or white spaces broadband (Super Wi-Fi) can play a role in taking congestion off over the air data networks.

Passing a spectrum bill that allows for more unlicensed airwaves would be a start, as would leaving the FCC to deal with the highly technical issues surrounding spectrum auctions. Pushing the FCC to investigate special access fees would also help, as it might lower the rate of bringing a fiber pipe out to areas so ISPs can support large-scale Wi-Fi or white spaces networks. But first, we have to understand how the wireless and cellular networks work, so we can propose viable solutions instead of blaming applications that make our lives better for congesting our network.

We can’t understand how applications like Siri can be blamed to ruin mobile networks when most carriers in the U.S. have killed the unlimited data plans and are throttling top 5% of the users down to unacceptable 2G speeds.

What do you think? Please share your views in the comments.

[via Washington Post, GigaOm]