How’s your latency doing these days? Here’s how it compared for a sample set of Bengaluru’s mobile users across three of its largest operators:

Don’t know what your latency is? Don’t worry, most people don’t. Because they’ve been used to measuring and comparing download speeds, the time taken to download a unit chunk of data, for years. Download speeds depend on the bandwidth (or bitrate) of the channel.

But there’s also latencyhow fast data travels over the channelwhich is crucial for real-time responding, such as VoIP calls, online gaming, rideshare booking, online stock trading, etc. In the post-PC smartphone world, it’s very rare for us to download large volumes of data at sustained high speeds. Instead on mobile, smaller chunks of data are downloaded at a time, meaning download speeds or bandwidth do not matter as singularly as they did earlier.

Instead, latency determines the user experience of apps, games and transactions on mobile phones. As our average attention span is tiny, of the order of seconds, latency greatly affects customer engagement, retention and conversion for online business.

Here’s how the latency of India’s top four mobile operators compared across a different sample set than the one earlier.

 Are you surprised to see Bharti Airtel consistently have the lowest latency, and thus, the fastest network as experienced by mobile users?

Goodbye bandwidth, hello latency

If you’re a consumer, how do you define a fast mobile network? One that enables apps and services that are in turn responsive, snappy and suffering from very little lag. Many things affect thisthe phone’s operating system, the plan you’re on, the hardware and the mobile network.

At the mobile network level, operators and regulators measure performance using “quality of service” benchmarks. Instead what matters is a “quality of experience”, which means the overall quality of the network, device and apps in the way you use them.

But this is very different from what consumers are solddownload speeds, monthly data caps, per GB prices, etc.

“Most modern apps are about latency and not download speeds. Because today we’re not downloading torrents, but are listening to music on Saavn in a bus, or calling an Uber cab, or playing teen-patti online. All of these require real-time interactions and feedback,” says Siddharth Mathur, founder and CEO of Fastah, a bootstrapped mobile networking technology startup.

Fastah offers open source APIs (invisible plumbing code that runs within software apps that helps components communicate with each other) that help developers, in turn, build apps and services that can detect the state of mobile networks and work smoothly by adjusting various parameters. Its aim is to “make the internet suck less” in developing countries, says Mathur.

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Rohin Dharmakumar

Rohin is co-founder and CEO at The Ken. He holds an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta and an engineering degree in Computer Sciences from the R.V.C.E., Bangalore.

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