Feature Article

August 26, 2013

LTE Changes User Behavior, EE Finds

There are at least two developments Long Term Evolution network operators hope will happen as 4G replaces 3G: first, that new applications generating revenue for the service provider will develop; second, that average revenue generated by access grows.

In other words, it is hoped that 4G creates new sources of revenue, as well as higher gross revenue.

A study by U.K. service provider EE suggests some behavioral changes are happening, though perhaps not yet at a direct level with regards to new apps.

Perhaps most significantly, 4G users on EE’s network are using both public Wi-Fi hotspots and home broadband services less. In April 2013 about 27 percent of respondents surveyed said they did not use public Wi-Fi, or were using it less.

By the end of July 2013, about 43 percent of respondents indicated they were using public Wi-Fi less.

Likewise, where in April 2013 about 21 percent of respondents indicated they were using their home broadband (fixed connection) less, by the end of July 2013 23 percent of the 4G users reported using the fixed connection less.

Those trends—less use of public Wi-Fi and less use of at-home fixed connections—could have implications for average revenue. As users find their 4G connections more useful, they might start using more data on the mobile network, compared to public Wi-Fi and fixed broadband.

That raises prospects for mobile substitution as people earlier had abandoned landline phones for mobile phones for voice services.

The study also shows people are sharing videos and pictures over 4G, leading to network upload traffic overtaking download traffic at key events. Think of the example of people at a sports event or big concert. This is another example of “faster speed” changing behavior.

Also, the study suggests 33 percent of 4G users stream more video over 4G than they did using 3G, with BBC iPlayer, Netflix and Sky Go the favourite TV services.

On the other hand, people are  using some apps less. The study shows a drop in music and app downloading and streaming, for example. Where in April about 15 percent reported music or app downloading or streaming, just 11 percent did at the end of July 2013.

What isn’t completely clear yet are behavior patterns on smart phones and tablets.

Though people seem to browse the web on 4G phones as much as they do on a fixed connection, streaming patterns on tablets diverge from fixed network behavior.

In other words, iPhones get used all day, while tablet usage rises to a peak in the evening. “The pattern of 4G is generally more variable than 3G,” EE reports. “We also see bigger relative peaks on the commute home and in the evening, largely because of streaming activity.”

“4G is being used at peak times for data-intensive activity, such as streaming, social media activity and apps that makes the most of 4G speeds, EE says.

So far, the changes in behavior are suggestive, but not yet confirmation that the hoped-for new apps are on the way. On the other hand, increased usage, so long as some form of metered charging is in place, will lift access revenues.

For a deeper look at the role of LTE, a panel discussion, titled “If You Can't Beat Them Join Them: White Spaces and LTE Play Together,” will be held this Wednesday from 12:30 to 1:15 p.m. as part of the Super Wi-Fi Conference, collocated with ITEXPO at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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