New tools to get your smartphone up to speed

Feb 27, 2014 by Angela Herring

"Check the map," says the voice in the commercial. "Verizon's super fast 4GLTE is the most reliable and in more places than any other 4G network."

But is it truly the most dependent, the most widespread?

In fact, there's no way of knowing: "There's absolutely no useful for comparison purposes," according to mobile systems expert Dave Choffnes, an assistant professor in Northeastern's College of Computer and Information Science. And that means we have no control over the performance and reliability of our mobile Internet use.

Last year, the number of people using to access the Internet surpassed the number of people using desktop computers to log online. While "most eyeball time is on devices," Choffnes said, mobile performance is nowhere near what we expect from our desktop experiences. Researchers like him would need much more data to even begin bringing mobile Internet use up to speed—literally.

"Ideally we'd have measurements from everywhere on every network all the time," he said. "And then we'd want to correlate that with where we use our phones and what applications we use on our phones. And then you can imagine with all that information we could spit out a number and say this carrier is going to give you the best overall performance."

But collecting that data is easier said than done—presumably, mobile providers would have done it by now if it weren't. One hurdle is that users need to opt-in to donating their data, explained Choffnes, since doing so means giving up some of their expensive data-plan as well as precious battery life. As a result, he said, "we have to give an incentive."

To that end, Choffnes has created a code that could send data to the developers of a once it has been installed on a smartphone. Developers could incorporate this code into whatever apps they create, but users will only opt in to those that are the most entertaining and useful.

For instance, Choffnes envisions an app that would allow two users to pit their mobile speeds against each other. Or one that provides real-time information about a phone's performance to inform which network provider one should choose.

In another project, which he's calling Meddle, Choffnes is using the same approach to incentivize users into donating their data for research. Along with limited performance and reliability control, mobile users also lack control over how their apps share their data with the rest of the Internet.

Meddle is not itself an app, but rather a proxy network through which all of a phone's traffic must pass before accessing a website or app. Traditionally, the privacy (or lack thereof) of that journey is governed by the app through which the user is traveling. Meddle encrypts everything it sends and receives, which instantly improves a user's privacy experience.

Additionally, Meddle allows users to view their activity—and the activity of their apps—online. When we click "agree" to an app's terms, we often give it permission to share our data with other parts of the web. Meddle users can view a map of that activity and shut down any unwanted data sharing, provided it doesn't interfere with the app's functionality.

In exchange for these improvements, users agree to share all their activity with Choffnes, but only after it's been scrubbed for anonymity. Choffnes then uses it to investigate the performance, reliability, and privacy of mobile network traffic. "If we can't see what devices are doing, we can't optimize them to work well all the time," he said.

Explore further: Mandela phone app for tourists in S.Africa

Related Stories

WhatsApp deal highlights suite of similar apps

Feb 20, 2014

Facebook's announcement it is paying $19 billion in cash and stock to acquire WhatsApp is a milestone event in the short history of mobile messaging apps. Hundreds of millions of people have downloaded suc ...

Sandisk releases 64GB wireless flash drive

Jan 07, 2014

SanDisk Corporation today announced the 64GB SanDisk Connect Wireless Flash Drive in advance of the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show. The drive extends SanDisk's popular line of wireless flash memory storage ...

Recommended for you

Mandela phone app for tourists in S.Africa

3 hours ago

A phone app tracing the footsteps of Nelson Mandela was launched Wednesday in South Africa to encourage tourists to explore his life story, 25 years after his release from prison.

App to test synaesthesia

4 hours ago

Four in hundred people have a special mix up of their senses, called synaesthesia. A new app from Radboud University contains four playful tests for synaesthesia. Should you happen to have synaesthesia, you ...

Windows Insiders can try out Project Spartan browser

Mar 31, 2015

Microsoft has opened up the (literal) windows, called in creatives, and has been engineering a next-generation browser. Project Spartan is to reflect the general mood of fresh air at Redmond. Although "Project ...

New taxi app challenges Uber in S.Korea

Mar 31, 2015

South Korea's top mobile messenger operator launched a new web-based cab-hailing service Tuesday to compete with California-based Uber, whose service has been subjected to crackdowns from state regulators.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.