Remember, back in 2007 -- you know, Year One BTAS (Before The App Store) -- when Steve Jobs gave Apple's rationale for keeping the iPhone a closed platform versus allowing native app development? "Cingular doesn't want to see their West Coast network go down because some application messed up," he famously said, and was mocked by us and others for his seeming excess of caution.
Now it seems the rogue app is on the other foot -- or, more to the point, on the other OS and carrier. Mike Dano at FierceWireless takes note of a January FCC filing (PDF) from T-Mobile planning & performance engineering director Grant Castle, where Castle makes part of T-Mobile's case on net neutrality rules and the need for traffic shaping and optimization for wireless data. The entire memo is a good read -- surprising enough, considering the audience and topic -- but the real zinger is the revelation about an unnamed instant messaging application that rolled out onto T-Mobile's Android handset base.
This mystery app apparently worked fine and dandy when tested on WiFi by the developer, but once in the wild it began to cause network issues; signaling demand went up, particularly on already-busy nodes in urban settings, and in one test the app was shown to increase device network utilization by 12x. The problems were exacerbated as the app grew in popularity, and eventually the traffic issues began to degrade service overall.
In this case, T-Mobile was able to reach out to the developer and request fixes to the app to resolve the network pain and suffering (which must have been a fascinating phone call). Still, this example of one poorly-adjusted application having widespread impact on a carrier network does indeed validate the original precautions in place for the web-apps-only iOS 1.x world, and today's gated garden/kill switch environment for iOS apps in the wild.
Interestingly, even though T-Mobile's support for unlocked iPhones in the US is officially unofficial, it's not entirely without challenges. FW also pointed out that back in April the carrier reported to the FCC that jailbroken phones on the T-Mobile network caused signaling issues akin to a DDOS attack. One could easily imagine a popular jailbreak application going off the network rails, with no way to restrain or recall it -- depending on the percentage of JB phones in the wild, it could get hectic.