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Why Mobile Data Compression No Longer Works

By Colm 28th November 2016

Could compression technology help to reduce the amount of mobile data your organization uses each month?

Many of us are familiar with the concept of compression from the days of creating zip files to reduce the size of document and presentations that we were sharing. In those days the purpose of compression was to deal with the fact that we were often working in bandwidth constrained environments on fixed networks. This issue has largely been made redundant with the advent of high bandwidth networks over WiFi and Ethernet.

The Promise of Mobile Data Compression

Cellular networks, on the other hand, do not offer boundless high-speed broadband. Unless you are fortunate enough to have an all you can eat data plan (which are almost non-existent in the enterprise world) there is a cost to every byte of data.So you’d think that compression might have value in mobile. And you’d be right – up to a point.

It is absolutely true that compression can have a significant impact on mobile traffic. Chrome for Android recently introduced video compression and reported that it resulted in a 67% data saving. A test of another browser, Opera, demonstrated that using its ‘extreme compression’ feature you could reduce the data required to load a webpage by 93%.

The Impact of Data Encryption

Unfortunately, compression can only be used on unencrypted traffic. And unencrypted traffic is fast disappearing. As recently as two years ago industry analysts reported that less than 10% of traffic on the web was encrypted. By the end of 2016, this percentage will have risen to 75%.  This change has been driven by a combination of consumer privacy concerns and the desire by web giants to hide their end-users activity from competitors. 

In 2014 high bandwidth video streaming applications like Netflix were typically unencrypted. Today virtually all Netflix traffic is over HTTPS. Google recently reported that 97% of Youtube traffic is now over the internet’s standard encryption protocol. And it’s not just websites – by the end of the 2016 Apple will insist that all communications to and from apps must be over HTTPS.

What does this mean for 3rd party compression tools?

 
In short it’s impossible to compress what you cannot see. 3rd party compression tools rely on being able to take the original content e.g. image or video and make it smaller while still retaining its viewability.  If the 3rd party tool cannot see the content because it’s transmitted over an encrypted tunnel well then there is nothing that can be done to compress the file.

The Bottom Line

Tools that claim to reduce your mobile data consumption by compressing each byte of data down to a smaller size are unlikely to deliver on their promises. Don’t waste time on these tools which are likely to have only a marginal effect on your company’s overall mobile data usage. Instead, focus on promoting responsible use by your employees.  One proven way of doing this is to deploy an Enterprise Mobility Control product like Corrata. With Corrata Mobility Control, an organization can help its employees act responsibly by preventing them inadvertently accessing high bandwidth sites and applications over mobile connections. In addition, Corrata gives employees clear visibility of their usage and timely advice on how to avoid unnecessary expense. A mobile control solution will put your organization in control of your employee’s use of mobile data and help you keep your business’s mobile service expenses in check.