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Mobile Network Testing for Different Real-World Conditions

How Can Testing Mobile Apps in Real-World Network Conditions Improve Performance and User Experience?

June 26, 2023
Jamie MooreJamie Moore
Jamie Moore

Enhancing the user experience is crucial in today's digital landscape, particularly for businesses targeting mobile users. Mobile internet connections, often slower and less reliable than desktop ones, present challenges that can hinder app performance. Slow loading times and difficulty accessing apps can lead to higher bounce rates and potential customer loss. According to a McKinsey report, 61% of users may not visit an app if they encounter difficulties, with 40% considering switching to competitors. To address this, mobile network testing becomes essential.

Testing mobile apps solely in controlled environments, like offices with stable networks, fails to reflect real-world user experiences across different geographies. Comprehensive network testing is crucial to understand its global performance. Evaluating apps under variable network speeds ensures a smooth user experience with fast loading times. It also improves search engine rankings, enhancing the app's visibility.

In this blog, we explore the significance of mobile network testing, addressing challenges posed by slow and unreliable networks. We examine their impact on app performance and provide strategies for optimizing mobile apps. By understanding the intricacies of mobile network testing, businesses can offer exceptional mobile browsing experiences, improving customer retention and conversions.

Factors Contributing to Varied App Behavior in Different Network Environments

When using a mobile app on the go, various network factors can influence the app's performance. Network bandwidth limitations, high latency, and difficulties in switching between different network speeds can all impact the user experience. Moreover, the quality of network coverage and speeds can vary significantly across other countries. Mobile apps rely on real-time communication between servers and users powered by networks. However, wireless networks are not always reliable or consistent, leading to variations in network performance.

There are several reasons why networks vary in their performance. Physical obstructions, network range limitations, interference from other wireless networks, and signal-sharing issues are obvious factors. Although mobile network operators have made significant improvements, achieving seamless connectivity and excellent signal stability with existing wireless technologies remains challenging. Wireless networks inherently have inconsistencies, such as limited bandwidth in certain areas, packet drops during handovers and routing while moving, and interference from other networks. Additionally, the technology used for data transfer, such as GPRS, UMTS, HSDPA, and LTE, further contributes to network variability. 

Lesser-known factors, including network usage and loads, poorly deployed antennas, signal reflection, wireless signal restrictions, transmitter power limitations, and signal polarization, also play a role. Considering these variables, the ability of a network to transfer data over long distances can be easily compromised, resulting in slower app performance.

To ensure optimal performance of mobile apps, thorough mobile network testing is essential. Mobile network testing tools enable developers to simulate various network conditions and evaluate the app's behavior in different scenarios. By conducting comprehensive testing, developers can identify potential performance issues, optimize the app for different network conditions, and deliver a seamless user experience.

Why Should You Test Your Apps on Different Network Conditions?

Traditionally, mobile app testing has focused on optimal network conditions, but real-world environments can present various challenges. Recognizing the impact of networks on app functionality, app development companies are now striving to address network inconsistencies and ensure stable performance. They understand the importance of testing apps under real network conditions to deliver a reliable user experience.

While using live networks for app testing is possible, it is a slow, cumbersome process that often yields inaccurate results. Testers must either travel to different locations or wait for specific network conditions to occur, making the testing procedure inefficient. Furthermore, reproducing bugs encountered under specific network conditions can be challenging, leading to "Cannot Reproduce" bug reports while the issue persists.

Overall, testing mobile apps on diverse networks with uncommon conditions is both overwhelming and challenging. It requires testing across numerous mobile devices, making it a tedious yet essential task. Unfortunately, there is a scarcity of tools that adequately support such testing.

HeadSpin, renowned as a leading mobile app testing platform, empowers testers to conduct geolocation testing on real devices. This enables enterprises to safeguard their mobile applications from potential geographical impacts and ensure exceptional performance. Leveraging HeadSpin's global device infrastructure, companies can test their apps in over 90 locations worldwide. Geolocation testing provided by HeadSpin assists in refining digital experiences for end users by assessing critical factors such as network infrastructure, cellular data, and data bandwidth, which can vary based on the user's geographical location.

How Can Network Conditions Be Simulated at Scale?

When it comes to mobile app testing, simulating network conditions is the most practical approach to understanding how your app will perform in different network environments. By doing so, you can proactively identify potential network failures that may compromise the overall end-user experience.

Simulating network conditions allow you to manipulate the flow of network data, giving you control over various parameters. These parameters include upload and download speeds, latency, loss percentage, packet corruption, and more. Adjusting these parameters allows you to create custom network profiles that closely resemble real-world user conditions. 

When considering which parameters to configure for simulating network conditions, here are some recommendations to guide you:

  • Start by prioritizing the usability of your application even under poor bandwidth conditions. Fine-tune your app's bandwidth consumption to optimize performance even in low-bandwidth scenarios.
  • Increase the latency to around three or four seconds. This delay ensures that user-initiated operations experience only a few seconds of delay rather than minutes, thus maintaining a reasonable level of responsiveness.
  • Experiment with changing the network's bandwidth and connectivity during an active session of your test. This allows you to observe and assess how your app adapts to fluctuations in network conditions, providing insights into its performance and resilience.
Learn more: Simulating Different Network Conditions for Virtual Devices

Challenges in Testing Apps in Diverse Network Environments

Having gained an understanding of the importance and mechanics of network testing, it is crucial to be aware of three common problem areas that demand attention.

Jitters, which refer to delays in receiving information over a network, can arise due to issues with connectionless or packet-switched networks. When data is transmitted in packets, it can encounter different paths and become disordered, causing delivery delays. To ensure seamless user experiences, designing your app in a way that can effectively handle these delays is crucial. Implementing a notification system that prompts users to retry or wait patiently for the system's response is considered a best practice in mitigating the impact of jitters.

Packet Loss occurs when data transmitted across networks fails to reach its intended destination. This phenomenon can significantly impact various applications, such as video streaming or gaming, leading to issues like blurring and lagging. While the streaming may continue, the overall experience is marred by delays and a loss of quality. Prominent applications like Netflix have successfully tackled packet loss by implementing buffering mechanisms. For instance, when watching a series on Netflix, the subsequent episode begins buffering even before the current one concludes. This proactive approach minimizes the risk of a subpar user experience and ensures a smooth transition for your binge-watching pleasure. It's a win-win situation for both users and the application.

Network speed is influenced by various factors such as distance, traffic, bandwidth limitations, and more. Global network availability and speeds exhibit fragmentation across different geographies. For instance, 4G (LTE) availability ranges from 40 to 90 percent worldwide, with an average of 55 percent. Average 4G speeds range from six to 45Mbps, with an average of 17Mbps. To ensure optimal app performance, it is vital to test them on diverse networks and speeds, including 2G, 3G, and 4G. Monitoring app behavior during network switching is crucial, as issues can arise, leading to unresponsiveness. Implementing alternative solutions for poor networks, such as offline usage, can significantly enhance user experience. An example of this is the "YouTube Go" feature introduced by Google.

Learn more: Boosting Application Efficiency with Network Performance Monitoring

How HeadSpin's Unique Network Shaping Capabilities Enable Organizations to Seamlessly Test Apps in Different Network Environments

The Network Config API offered by HeadSpin provides network shaping capabilities that allow devices to be configured to control their network connectivity outside of a network capture session. This API enables developers to shape and modify various attributes of the devices' network connectivity.

The following attributes can be configured using the Network Config API:

  1. Download Bandwidth: Developers can set the download bandwidth of devices, simulating different network speeds. This feature helps assess app performance under varying download speeds, such as high-speed connections or slower network conditions.
  1. Upload Bandwidth: The API allows developers to configure the upload bandwidth of devices. This helps in testing scenarios where an app relies on uploading data, such as file transfers or content sharing, under different network conditions.
  1. Packet Loss: The Network Config API enables the introduction of artificial packet loss. By configuring the packet loss attribute, developers can simulate scenarios where network packets are dropped or lost. This is useful for testing how an app handles unreliable network connections and ensures robustness and error handling.
  1. Round-Trip Network Latency: Developers can modify the round-trip network latency using this API. By introducing latency, they can replicate real-world network conditions with delays in network communication. Testing apps under different latency scenarios helps identify potential performance issues and optimize app responsiveness.
Read: Android vs. iOS App Performance Testing - The Differences

In addition to network shaping, the Network Config API also offers network routing capabilities in two categories:

  • Traffic Routing: Developers can define routing rules based on the destination IP or hostname and port to control the flow of raw network traffic. This allows for testing specific network scenarios and interactions between the app and targeted destinations.
  • DNS Routing: The API enables the routing of DNS queries based on the domain being accessed. Developers can define rules to route DNS queries to different destinations, allowing for testing specific DNS-related scenarios.

By utilizing the network shaping and routing capabilities of the Network Config API, developers can effectively test their apps under a wide range of network conditions, ensuring optimal performance and user experience across diverse network environments.

Wrapping Up

In today's fast-paced digital landscape, acquiring and retaining customers happens within seconds, especially on mobile platforms where users are often pressed for time. To effectively convert these users into revenue, businesses must prioritize delivering a seamless experience. Users who can easily navigate an app, even on unreliable networks, are more likely to stay engaged. Therefore, ensuring your app is adaptive to the user's perspective and accessible across varying network speeds is crucial for business success and also essential for survival in a competitive market.

Harness the power of HeadSpin's AI-based Platform and expansive global device infrastructure to conduct mobile network testing on real devices across real locations while maintaining top-notch security and optimal performance.

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Q1. What does network testing entail?

Ans: Network testing encompasses a comprehensive approach to assess and validate security controls within a network, aiming to identify vulnerabilities, demonstrate their existence, and evaluate potential risks.

Q2. What does network test automation involve?

Ans: Network test automation refers to the practice of utilizing software to automatically handle the configuration, provisioning, management, and testing of network devices.

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How Can Testing Mobile Apps in Real-World Network Conditions Improve Performance and User Experience?

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