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Pokémon Go uses little data, but it's still a big drag on mobile networks

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Too many trainers trying to be the very best

Pokémon Go, as one of the most popular mobile games ever released, is a fascinating test case for observing just how taxing a single app can be for an entire network's performance. In an analysis of a small European telecom performed by California-based networking company Procera Networks, Pokémon Go was accessed by about 7 percent of the total 2 million users over a three-hour period. Those sessions were found to take up only a small amount of bandwidth in comparison to other apps like Facebook and Spotify. However, because the app was being used by such a large number of users simultaneously, it resulted in adverse affects on network performance.

"Bandwidth is just one factor on a network. One usage parameter often overlooked is the number of sessions that the application generates, which affects 'stateful' network elements (analytics, charging, and security among them), have to deal with 'chatty' or 'noisy' applications as they consume system resources," writes Cam Cullen, Procera's vice president of global marketing, in a blog post.

'Pokémon Go was accessed by 7 percent of all users over a three-hour period

In fact, the app is already quite "chatty," Cullen adds, for a piece of software with such low bandwidth. While Pokémon Go used only 0.1 percent of overall traffic on the network — with Facebook taking up about 16 percent — the game still accounted for more than 1 percent of all sessions. A session is another way of saying a connection is opened between your device and developer Niantic's servers.

Every player of Pokémon Go interacts with its digital world in some small way — for instance, by catching a pokémon, checking in at a pokéstop, or battling at a gym. Each one of these interactions takes up a small amount of data, but requires some communication with Niantic's servers. Add together the total number of players performing these actions, creating new sessions all the while, and it's easy to see just how noisy the app can become.

Mobile operators may have to plan around Pokémon Go

Cullen says the game's network drag could increase exponentially if Niantic decides to start letting third parties interact with its world, which would create new dialogs and sessions every time a player interacts with one, therefore bumping up the server load. "That may seem harmless, but remember that Pokémon Go has not yet fully monetized their model with advertising and sponsorships," Cullen writes. "So take that number, and then imagine that every 10 feet someone walks, a new sponsored ad pops up, or a company is paying Niantic to let them know when Pokemon players are near their location, generating a new session and data that gets sent back to the game servers."

The potential jump means mobile operations may, in the near future, have to do capacity planning just to account for how Pokémon Go may affect the network. What better measure of success is there when networking companies say your app may devastate the infrastructure of small-scale and maybe even large telecoms?


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