Network-efficient apps will score points with consumers, carriers and financiers

Sue MarekOne outcome of AT&T Mobility's decision earlier this month to put an end to its unlimited data plans in favor of usage-based plans (new smartphone customers pay $15 per month for 200 MB of data or $25 per month for 2 GB of data), is that it highlights the need for the mobile developer community to design network-efficient applications.

In the mobile developer world, there is nothing worse than having consumers dump your application--or worse, never download it in the first place--because of fear that it will consume tons of bandwidth and therefore prove costly. With AT&T's new usage-based data plans in place just in time for the debut of Apple's iPhone 4, you can bet that many app developers are scurrying to find ways to streamline and compress their apps to make them as efficient as possible.

Of course, AT&T and others have been warning developers of the importance of designing bandwidth-friendly apps for some time, but there is nothing like the threat (and surprise) of sky-high mobile data charges to bring the issue home.

In fact, in March at the FierceWireless "Path to 4G" event co-located with the CTIA Wireless 2010 conference in Las Vegas, Kris Rinne, senior vice president of architecture and planning at AT&T, told the audience that AT&T had reviewed different streaming video Web sites and compared the bandwidth consumption of each. One site in particular (which Rinne did not name) required eight times the amount of data to download video than other sites, with no visible difference in video quality. She then urged collaboration among carriers, content providers and developers to innovate and deliver more efficient streaming video for mobile networks.

But mobile developers have even more to fear than just backlash from data-wary consumers. Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao, speaking at the Mobile World Congress 2010 conference in Barcelona, even went so far as to suggest that in addition to charging consumers extra for the amount of bandwidth they consume, mobile operators might want to consider charging content providers if their content is too bandwidth-intensive.

Clearly there is an urgent need for streamlined mobile applications that deliver a compelling user experience without eating up huge amounts of bandwidth. And mobile developers and content firms that can deliver on this call to action likely will find funding to help them make their concept a reality. I queried a few of my venture capital sources and all said they are interested in investing in firms with compelling solutions that don't hog bandwidth.

In the crowded mobile application space it's often hard to get your app to stand apart from the rest. But if you can make it bandwidth-friendly, you likely will have a key competitive differentiator that will win favor with the mobile operator, the consumer and the venture capital community. --Sue