iOS7’s impact on networks worldwide

Apple releases an iOS update and the networks all across the world witness a spike of almost 100% in the average traffic that they receive. Apple delivers its content using Akamai, which allegedly handles 20% of world’s total web traffic. Akamai is thus in a unique position to provide a view of whats happening on the web, at any given instant in time. Akamai logs clearly show an over all increase in Internet traffic and the hotspots in Europe soon after Apple released its iOS7.

Akamai showing traffic hotspot in Europe

Most service providers saw Akami and Limelight traffic up by an average of 300-700% immediately after iOS7 was released.

Being an Android user myself, i found iOS7’s release with the massive increase in the Internet traffic reported all over the world quite insidious. Honestly, i was a trifle concerned with what iOS7 was internally doing to result this.

It turned out to be quite an anti-climax when i realized that the spurt in network traffic was just because of Apple devices upgrading to the newer iOS. The iOS7 upgrade for the phones is around 900MB, and that for the ipads is around 1.2GB. Given that there are quite a few of these devices out there, one only needs to multiply this with the upgrade size to realize the traffic volumes that service providers all across the world are grappling with.

Its well known that Apple fans dont want to wait before they go in for an upgrade. The iOS7 adoption rate has been the highest ever for any platform (beating their own iOS6 rate, which was in itself phenomenal in all respects). Its claimed that within two days of its release, iOS7 is already running on more than half of all Apple devices out there (which btw is already quite high).

Google is perplexed with how it can improve the miserably low adoption rate for their Android OS.  This seems to stem from the fact that most Android devices just do not receive updates in a timely manner and the ones that do, only go for an update roughly six months after a new version is released.

Jelly Bean (the latest version of Android) currently is on a fewer Android devices than iOS 7 on iOS devices. This may not seem mind boggling, until you realize that iOS 7 has only been out for only 5 days (as of this post) whereas Android Jelly Bean was been around since a little more than a year and half.

iOS’s high adoption rate is a headache for several service providers since, lets face it, all of them oversubscribe their access links. This is done by design, since its assumed that not everyone would demand full bandwidth usage at the same time. Usually it works well, sometimes it doesnt, as we’ll just see.

Most homes have multiple iOS devices, so this translates to each household doing 5-6 GB worth of iOS updates in a single day. Multiply this by thousands and you’ll see the volume of traffic each provider sees around the week whenever an iOS  is released.

Having a CDN which is caching the iOS7 update, would definitely help in any large deployment. What could, suggest some people, also help is if each one of these Apple “i” devices advertise an “iOS update available” locally and other “i” devices merely downloaded the update from there, as long as the signature is valid (all images are signed).

This at the very least  can improve the user experience (no more facebook/twitter updates on how slow their iOS upgrade was) and can potentially help in avoiding clogging the Internet tubes.

Few service providers are furious with Apple as they see their customers complaining that their network/Internet access is slow. There is a camp that thinks its pretty dumb on Apple’s part to make their OS update available globally on the same day — Microsoft and others have a strategy where they provide incremental downloads. Others suggest that Apple should do this on weekends, when traffic volumes are low.  I strongly disagree with this line of reasoning and believe its parochial to call on a war on Apple — remember, iOS updates are user pulls, not Apple pushes. Its the Operators who should update their infrastructure to gracefully handle such events — today its an iOS7 release, tomorrow it could be something else (Obama in a political sex scandal?). If this means getting fatter pipes, or talking to CDN vendors to put caches in their networks or putting up their own caches, then this ought to be done. If they do not/cannot have an CDN cache then they could explore connecting to an Internet Exchange (IX) that does. IX peering, i am told, is not prohibitively expensive in most countries.

Ben quite succinctly sums it up on a nanog mailing list, “Your (the service provider) user is paying you to push packets. If that’s causing you a problem, you either need to review your commercial structure (i.e. charge people more) or your technical network design. Face the facts, what with everyone jumping on the “cloud” bandwagon, the future is only going to see you pushing more packets, not less !  So if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen (or the xSP industry).”


8 thoughts on “iOS7’s impact on networks worldwide

  1. “…….also help is if each one of these Apple “i” devices advertise an “iOS update available” locally and other “i” devices merely downloaded the update from there, as long as the signature is valid (all images are signed).”</

    I am sure there are other examples but almost all of the major linux distributions are available to download via bittorrent, in my opinion the best CDN there is. Why you have to pay Akamai to do what your own consumers can do for you for free is beyond me.

    Seed the ios initially from a “lot” of locations, but then let the Internet take over.

    I am sure there will be security concerns with such a distribution method but as you suggest as long as the images are signed, it should not be an issue.

    Would be keen to understand why Apple or other large organisations have not adopted bittorrent. Is it just because it is “bittorrent” or there are commercial implications from using bittorrent.


    1. Hi Harman,

      Bit-torrent as a tool was never designed to reduce the network load, and in most cases would probably end up doing just the opposite. It is a protocol designed to reduce the burden on the originator where people interested in downloading files help others.

      In bit-torrent there is no guarantee that the client will find the closest networking peer. The algorithm usually tries to find the fastest peers with the pieces it needs. The algorithm is greedy and definitely does not keep the networking load in mind. Its also easy to write new clients, compliant to the original Bit-torrent message protocol that changes its algorithm to adopt greedy strategies where the purpose is to optimize the local peer. You can for example change the algorithm to maximize the client download without uploading any content by continuously increasing your peers in the set.

      Bit-torrent imo can never replace CDNs like Akamai where you have some sort of SLAs negotiated – there is a level of predictability that you can never get with Bit-torrent.

      Cheers, Manav


  2. A Gig for a SW update!! Apple is even worse than microsoft.
    I update my android every week from cyanogen and its only 200 mb.

    Blame it on the pre launch hype phenomena of our times. Whether its cars or gadgets or movies, success is decided on the launch weekend itself.


  3. I’m trying to see the increase in the Akamai graph, but isn’t it showing that 91% of regions are above average rather than that there is 91% increase in traffic volume?


    1. Yes David youre right. This particular Akamai graph shows the increase in traffic immediately after the release of iOS7. With time as more downloads started, many service providers saw an increase of 100%+ in the network traffic that they generally witness.


      1. Ok, thanks. I wanted to show this to our IP guys and talk about how dedicated links with CDNs would prevent service deterioration (breaching network neutrality AND improving quality), but there’s no graph to back it up.


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