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Average U.S. Smartphone Data Usage Up 89% as Cost per MB Goes Down 46%
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Average U.S. Smartphone Data Usage Up 89% as Cost per MB Goes Down 46%

Don Kellogg, Senior Manager, Telecom Research & Insights, Nielsen

The mobile Data Tsunami initially described here is still growing at an astounding pace. According to Nielsen’s monthly analysis of cellphone bills for 65,000+ lines, smartphone owners – especially those with iPhones and Android devices — are consuming more data than ever before on a per-user basis.  This has huge implications for carriers since the proportion of smartphone owners is also increasing dramatically.  (Currently, 37% of all mobile subscribers in the United States have smartphones.)

In just the last 12 months, the amount of data the average smartphone user consumes per month has grown by 89 percent from 230 Megabytes (MB) in Q1 2010 to 435 MB in Q1 2011. A look at the distribution of data consumption is even more shocking: data usage for the top 10 percent of smartphone users (90th percentile) is up 109 percent while the top 1 percent (99th percentile) has grown their usage by an astonishing 155 percent from 1.8GB in Q1 2010 to over 4.6GB in Q1 2011.

mobile-mb-usage-percentile

Growth in Smartphone data usage is clearly being driven by app-friendly operating systems like Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. Consumers with iPhones and Android smartphones consume the most data: 582 MBs per month for the average Android owner and 492 MBs for the average iPhone user. Also of note, Windows Phone 7 users doubled their usage over the past two quarters, perhaps due to growth in the number of applications available.

data-usage-by-OS

Even as data usage has almost doubled, most users are paying around what they did a year ago for data. That translates to a lower cost per unit of data consumed.  The amount the average smartphone user pays per unit of data has dropped by nearly 50 percent in the last year, from 14 cents per megabyte (MB) to a mere 8 cents.

smartphone-cost-per-MB

For additional perspectives on this data tsunami and the challenges it presents to wireless carriers, see related articles in Light Reading and The Street.