Google Instant = The Next Mobile Meltdown?

While Google’s new instant search feature certainly impressed many at the news conference in San Francisco Wednesday, the impending launch of Google Instant for mobile devices might be the next application that brings fragile cellular networks to their knees.

Why? Though we probably won’t know until thousands start using Google Instant on their cell phones, the application’s feature of guessing what you are typing may actually mean fewer mobile searches since theoretically you will find your answer faster. But with new results appearing with each letter typed, Google Instant may also cause a lot of unwanted traffic as servers, cell towers and handheld devices engage in constant communications to support the “instant” search results. Could all that search traffic clog mobile networks to the point of saturation? We don’t know for sure, and didn’t get any confident answers Wednesday to make us think that the Googlers have thought this through completely, either.

Google reps at the announcement Wednesday all acknowledged that Google Instant would certainly increase bandwidth needs for either mobile or landline connections, but also pointed out that search results were typically very small bits of information, especially when compared to things like streaming video. But the increased amount of connections needed could cause less-than-instant search-result slowdowns, especially in a mobile situation. In demos of the mobile version (which Google said won’t be available for a month or more), there was a noted latency of a few seconds’ delay when compared to the desktop/laptop version of the program.

Google VP for search Marissa Mayer admitted that some beta testers of the service had to turn it off in cases where their broadband connection wasn’t good, and Google reps at the event said that it (obviously) would work better on Wi-Fi, OK on a 3G connection and not at all on “2G” wireless like AT&T’s EDGE network. Though Googlers Wednesday didn’t think the instant searches would cause someone to burn up their mobile data cap while looking for a nearby restaurant, the mobile version will come with a handy “off” button — just in case.

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