Over the last months and years, mobile web usage has increased dramatically. In November 2016, mobile internet usage surpassed desktop usage for the first time, and this trend has only continued.

You may have embraced mobile users by taking steps to improve their experience, such as optimizing images, caching resources, or adopting a responsive website design. These are important steps to take, but does your monitoring strategy take into consideration the unique challenges mobile users face.

Desktop users and mobile users have different experiences due to variations in device type, browser, and network conditions. Simply put, you cannot assume that testing and monitoring desktop performance will provide a sufficient picture of your mobile user’s experience. It’s critical to test websites using mobile network conditions to accurately measure the site’s performance.

In this post, we’ll show why the mobile experience can be so different from the desktop experience, dispel common myths about the performance of mobile devices, and teach you how to get a holistic view of the performance and experience of all your visitors, regardless of device.

Mobile Internet Use Is On The Rise

With nearly 80 percent of the U.S. population using smartphones, it is hardly a surprise that for many sites, the majority of traffic comes via mobile devices. For almost 15 percent of Internet users, or 40.7 million people, mobile devices are their only source of Internet access. It’s estimated that the number of mobile-only Internet users will continue to rise. With these statistics in mind, it’s not surprising that over half of all eCommerce traffic is on mobile devices.

What Is Holding Back Good Mobile Experiences?

Historically, poor experience on mobile might have been blamed on devices. This argument doesn’t hold as much weight anymore, especially when you consider that smartphones, in some cases, are equal to or faster than a fairly modern desktop. For instance, the new iPhone X has a better Geekbench score than a MacBook Pro.  

Unfortunately, for many users, a good mobile experience on their favorite websites remains elusive. So, if devices aren’t hamstringing mobile experience, what is? Oftentimes it’s the network speed and added latency. According to Google’s analysis of over 10,000 mobile web domains, the average load time for mobile sites is 19 seconds over 3G connections. When you consider that 61% of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site they had trouble accessing and 40% will visit a competitor’s site instead, failing to prioritize mobile experience simply is not an option.

How Network Connections Impacts Performance and Experience

Let’s see a real world example to better understand the impact network connection has on performance measurements. In the graph below we see the Time to First Byte (TTFB) for the same e-commerce site measured over a desktop cable mobile connection, a mobile LTE connection, and a mobile 3G connection.

The TTFB for the LTE connection is about 30% slower than the desktop connection. Even though LTE can be a fast connection with high bandwidth, mobile connections and the associated infrastructure of cell towers and networking equipment means mobile connections tend to have more latency than desktop connections. This effect is even more pronounced when looking the same site over a 3G mobile connection. In this instance, the TTFB is 3 times larger for 3G than a desktop connection!

How Slower Speeds and Higher Latencies Compound

Its also important to understand how slower download speeds and higher latencies can compound. Below, we see the Start Render time for the same e-commerce site loaded over desktop, LTE, and 3G.

The Start Render time for the site over LTE is 51% slower than over desktop (4.16 seconds vs 2.72 seconds). For a 3G connection, the Start Render time is nearly 6x slower than for desktop!

The reason for this is simple. Because mobile is slower, it takes longer to get the base HTML page. Which means that downloading things like CSS and fonts are delayed relative to a desktop connection. The delays snowball, so when JavaScript is delayed, the OnLoad event is also delayed. This of course further delays all the lazying loading for ads and pushes off the Visually Complete Time.

While you might have a LTE connection, you can’t assume that your users do. From visitors in rural America to global audiences in other countries, network connection can vary widely. Rather than testing performance under ideal circumstances alone, it’s better to understand how all users, rather than just a small subset with super fast connections, experience your site.

Network Throttling by Rigor

Given the importance of testing and monitoring mobile experience, Rigor is pleased to launch Network Throttling for Monitoring and Optimization. With this launch, all Rigor customers are able to test their websites under various network conditions.

By emulating both upstream and downstream speeds, Rigor customers can now hone in on performance defects that may degrade the user experience across a wider variety of connection types. 

Since mobile experience is impacted by both speed and latency, we have added the ability to include latency, so you can pinpoint the impact of slow or distant connections. By default new tests will use a 20 Mbps Cable Modem connection, which is currently the average internet connection in the United States, according to research from Akamai. If you need more specific settings to better reflect the typical connections of your users, you can even define your own conditions.

You can learn more about how to set up Network Throttling in Monitoring and Optimization in our Knowledge Base.

Conclusion

Mobile Internet usage continues to be on the rise, so delivering a good mobile experience is essential for businesses who want to compete.

If you’re committed to delivering a good digital experience to your users, then you need to be able to emulate their experience as closely as possible. For mobile users this means that you need to be able to emulate their network connections so you can pinpoint defects that might be affecting them and make mobile-specific optimizations.

Rigor makes this easy with Network Throttling. If you’re ready to prioritize mobile performance and want to see Network Throttling in action on your site, book a demo below.

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