A new study undertaken by Ericsson and Vodafone Germany has used electroencephalography (EEG) scanning methods to determine the emotional state of users’ responses to network delays, concluding that tolerance of even very minor connectivity hiccups causes stress and dissatisfaction.

The study monitored the brain activity of 150 participant volunteers in Düsseldorf, Germany, who were invited to complete 13 specific tasks on a smartphone within ten minutes whilst network connectivity issues were simulated. The tasks including uploading selfies, engaging with streaming video and general browsing of the web. During the experiment the volunteers’ eye-tracking and pulse rates were also monitored.

Guido Weißbrich, the Director of Network Performance at Vodafone Germany, commented “A mere one-second delay when downloading or uploading content has a significant negative impact on the user experience,”

The study is the first to attempt to register psycho-emotional reaction to network performance, and its work has informed the launch of Ericsson’s Neuromatic Analysis product.

The company claims to be able to estimate and quantify neurological and subconscious user reactions to network and app performance, presumably at a more compact level of organisation than the Düsseldorf tests.

Page response time has been a subject of interest to marketers and analytics personnel for some years. Recent studies have indicated that users will abandon a loading web page for as little as 400ms delay – approximately as long as it takes to blink.

It is possible that the widespread consumer base of the most popular sites – such as Facebook and Google – has ‘spoiled’ a net generation which does not remember the World Wide Wait under 56k modems, and that the sense of ‘community suffering’ can no longer be relied on to provide a level playing field. Sites at the scale of the social media giants have billions invested in content distribution networks, edge caching and other high-level resources to minimise latency, as well as failover in high demand conditions – unlikely contingencies for independent sites.

Bradley Mead, a network leader at Ericsson, commented of the joint study: “It is essential for operators to understand how people actually feel about the service they provide and how it really impacts their day to day lives. We now have valuable data that can be used to optimize and engineer networks to maximize the experience when using popular applications.”

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