The Tale of the Android App that Crippled T-Mobile’s Network


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Android apps can do a lot of things, and while you may have never expected one of them to be choking out T-Mobile’s network for an entire city, turns out that is exactly what happened. An FCC filing by TMo brings up the year old incident to draw attention to the sticky situation created when you mix net neutrality and mobile. In this case, an instant messaging app ate up so much bandwidth refreshing its network connection that when connected to a wireless network it had crippling effects. Grant Castle, director of national planning for T-Mobile, writes:

T-Mobile network service was temporarily degraded recently when an independent application developer released an Android-based instant messaging application that was designed to refresh its network connection with substantial frequency. The frequent refresh feature did not create problems during the testing the developer did via the WiFi to wireline broadband environment, but in the wireless environment, it caused severe overload in certain densely populated network nodes, because it massively increased signaling—especially once it became more popular and more T-Mobile users began downloading it to their smartphones. One study showed that network utilization of one device increased by 1,200 percent from this one application alone. These signaling problems not only caused network overload problems that affected all T-Mobile broadband users in the area; it also ended up forcing T-Mobile’s UMTS radio vendors to re-evaluate the architecture of their Radio Network Controllers to address this never-before-seen signaling issue. Ultimately, this was solved in the short term by reaching out to the developer directly to work out a means of better coding the application.

Of course, what TMo is getting at is the necessity for wireless providers to be able to throttle back data connections when a service running on a users handset such as the app in question starts hogging up more than its fair share with negative consequences to the rest of the network. In this case the situation was resolved through the developer and all was right, but interesting net neutrality questions are raised nonetheless. It’s a raging debate that I will leave up to you all.

[via Gizmodo]

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  1. I’m a TMo customer, and probably will never leave but I’m thinking they should beef up their network to support smart phone apps. It’s not like there’s ever going to be any fewer of them.

  2. Any idea what app this was?

  3. Sounds like it coulda happened to anynetwork provider

  4. @Steve, their network works fine, yes, they could beef it up a little but this is irrelevant to this article, this probably would have happened to any other network since the big issue was an app that was refreshing itself too often (every 1 minute or so I’m guessing), multiply that by thousands of phone and ANY network can come down in a matter of minutes.

  5. First time I have heard of this which bothers me. I believe that providers are afraid it could happen again and would be even worse the next time around. I don’t blame them, but what I believe should happen, is Google should address the issue to insure providers as well as users that a situation like that or any major issues with an app on Android will not happen. I love Android for being open and allowing developers the freedom to do as they wish. I strongly believe Google needs to develope some way that apps or sent through a testing phase to insure it works with limited bugs. Which ever devices the app is designed for, it should be tested to work as described and without crippling the network. Also viruses and malware come to mind. I know I hate it when I tryout an app only to experience force close issues or battery drain. The only thing I can say good about Apple is atleast all there apps work.

  6. I think this case makes a good argument for Google retaining the ability to “nuke” apps on a phone remotely. I seem to remember when that came up before people were worried about the privacy aspect. However, if a well meaning but incompetent developer can bring a network to it’s knees imagine what a sophisticated malicious developer could do…

  7. This is some lame scare tactic they are trying to use to justify there support against Net Neutrality.

  8. @Steven Proof?

  9. @Steven I totally agree. This isn’t even about net neutrality. An app like this goes against any reasonable definition of it.

  10. Don’t forget that Comcast is in the process of buying NBC. What happens when they throttle people viewing programs on instead? You’ll all be crying for net neutrality.

  11. @pjhnsn
    Basically what I hear you saying is that you don’t want developers to develop apps.
    Tested on every device “it is designed for?” What if an app isn’t designed for any particular device but is intended to run on all devices? Should it have to be “approved” individually on every device? What if it isn’t “approved”? Should it not be “allowed” to be marketed? On which market? Google’s market? Amazon’s market? Best Buy’s android market? Or others that may eventually appear? (Holding my breath for a Walmart android app store with $99 tablets in blister packs hanging on a peg with no contract.)
    You say you love that Android is open, but seem to argue for a closed and restricted system. Apple has such a system and anyone is free to choose it. Good luck to their system where developers and content providers are carefully controlled to “protect” you from dirty or “dangerous” apps or ideas.

  12. @Tom: No proof. Just my opinion. Its quite simple…if all network traffic is created equally, then this could be an obvious sign of what could happen in the eyes of those who dont support it. Sounds quite inflated to me. A program that popular would most likely have a setting for update interval. Not everyone uses the most aggressive update interval in most given programs.

  13. N1 on TMo, any idea which it was?

  14. T-mobile’s sole purpose for going public with this story is to support their position on net neutrality. They don’t want any outside agency regulating wireless traffic and they will continue to leak any story that plays in their favor.

  15. it was some sms porn apps

  16. They have it wrong. One of the points of net neutrality (as I understand it or as I would like it to be) is that providers should target behavior, not applications. If an application is misbehaving, you can address it indirectly by throttling or blocking the user who is using too much bandwidth. For example, let’s say that bittorrent is on someone’s naughty list. Shouldn’t it depend on whether a user is downloading hundreds of 10GB file versus someone who uses the same application to download one 50KB file?

  17. Net neutrality is stupid. Providers do own the bandwidth that they provide don’t they? And now we’re trying to say how they can use their own property? This is still America, right? Imagine actually having a choice as to what to do with your own property… Amazing concept!

    If consumers don’t like how a provider is providing bandwidth, then you choose a different provider.

  18. Net neutrality? what has this to do with it? We are talking about something like a chat client. Something with a lot of small pings, not with a lot of bandwith.

    In this case: Sh*t happends.

    The only thing that COULD have helped would have been, to cut of the users – causing this – instandly. And not asking the developer of the app to pay per bandwith for his servers, additionaly to the money the user is paying with his network-plan

  19. @Bob The free market doesn’t work when all of the companies are doing the same thing. Look at cell phone plans. The United States and Canada have the most expensive cell service in the entire world. It’s because they are all doing it and they know you don’t have anywhere else to go. Yes, this is America, and that’s why it has to be about the people and protecting them from abusive corporations. Do you really want Comcast to prioritize and slow down when you’re trying to watch Family Guy? I really don’t understand right-wingers who just love being raped by businesses.

  20. @Tony There’s clearly a lot that you don’t understand, and I love the assumptions you make about me being a right-winger (I’m not btw)… Perhaps I should make wild characterizations about you?

    If I had cable service through Comcast, and suddenly my broadband to sites that I frequent went to shit, then I would drop Comcast as my provider. I know, its shocking isn’t it? I can actually vote with my dollar…

    And who in the world is getting rapped by businesses??? Here’s another clue, if you don’t purchase services or products from a business, then you can’t get “rapped” by them. Buying a product or service from a business is a voluntary action, no one is forcing you. If you don’t like a particular business then don’t buy their stuff. If enough people are like-minded, then the business will either change their practices or go out of business. If someone chooses to be “rapped”, then it isn’t “rape” is it?

    And no, I don’t agree with your summation of what America stands for. You see, I think it stands for freedom and liberty. Which means that, I own my property, and I can do whatever the hell I want to with my property. If I own a company, and that company owns property, then I get to choose how to use that property.

  21. @Bob Good job completely ignoring what I said. If all the companies are doing it, then you don’t have anywhere else to go. What happens if AT&T/Comcast/Verizon all decide that they no longer like FaceBook because it’s eating up their bandwidth? There’s nowhere else to go. So it’s not really a “vote with your dollar”. It’s either pay them, without FaceBook access, or just don’t have internet. That doesn’t sound very American to me. Freedom and liberty won’t mean anything when corporations are running the world.

  22. BTW, I think “right-winger” is a pretty safe assumption since the overwhelming majority of people opposed to net neutrality are coming from the right.

  23. I used this app to kill iPhones.

  24. I had t-mobile. Signal was great before 3G. Not so great when 3g came. Now with the HSPA + I cannot get a bar in my house. The tower is not even a mile away. Seems to me that when they increase their data, they lose their voice. On AT&T now. Maybe t-mobile will be better when/if they manage to go through with buying out sprint.

  25. I had Tmoble not long ago…and its things like this that make me happy I nolonger have have them. …so funny to see people trry to defend them…a bad network is just a bad network…the end

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