Feature Article

January 31, 2013

How Much Data Smartphone Users Consume a Month Remains Key Question

Precisely how much data a “typical” smartphone user consumes on a monthly basis is hard to state with precision, since virtually all studies of end user behavior suggest “average” use, in the sense of an arithmetic mean, does not accurately reflect “typical” behavior, which virtually always includes a very large number of users who consume small amounts of data – while a small number consume quite a lot of data.

Service providers, of course, rely on such estimates to plan for capacity upgrades and set retail pricing. And that’s no easy task.

For example, Android smartphone users tracked for a year by NPD Connected Intelligence use between half a gigabyte a month to about 1 Gbyte a month of mobile network data. Apple iPhone users tend to use a bit more.

Though the data might reflect the smaller number of iPhone users in the sample, consumption tended to run between 0.75 Gbytes a month up to about two gigabytes a month. By December 2012, though, Apple iPhone users were consuming data at about the same rate as Android users.

Most of us would assume those “averages” actually mean that most smartphone users are consuming far less data than the data would tend to suggest. Most studies show typical monthly data consumption of less than 500 Mbytes a month.

Excluding the top 1 percent of users, the average monthly data burn was 221 MBytes, one 2010 study suggested.

To make matters even more confusing, most smartphone users probably consume most of their data on Wi-Fi networks, which most studies of mobile data consumption likely never capture.

U.K. Android users send and receive 78 percent of all their data over Wi-Fi networks, according to Nielsen, which also tracked the data usage of about 1,500 Android users.

Nielsen’s analysis suggests as much as 78 percent of all data consumed by users is using a Wi-Fi connection of some sort.

Data collected by Mobidia shows that Wi-Fi usage is close to ubiquitous in developed markets, where more than 90 percent of smartphone users also use Wi-Fi as a means of data connectivity. In Hong Kong and the Netherlands, use of Wi-Fi byu smartphone users is over 98 percent.

So total smartphone data consumption, even for a typical user, could actually be 1.1 Gbytes, including all Wi-Fi usage.

Edited by Braden Becker

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