Roger Entner, Senior Vice President, Research and Insights, Telecom Practice
AT&T's shift away from unlimited data pricing has led us to examine the issue of data consumption in the United States. The Nielsen Company collects phone bills from more than 60,000 mobile customers every month and analyzes every line item on the bill. These bills show how much data each customer has consumed in the previous month, regardless of whether the customer is on a metered or unlimited data plan, in order to give customers the opportunity to understand their data consumption habits.
When we look at smartphone data consumption distribution and year-over-year change, we see a large disparity of usage among smartphone users and are struck by the staggering amounts of data used by the heaviest users.
Average data consumption increased from about 90MB per month during the first quarter of 2009 to 298MB per month during the first quarter of 2010. This represents a year-over-year increase of approximately 230 percent. While this increase is substantial, in the first quarter of 2009 more than a third of smart phone subscribers used less than 1MB of data per month; this number has dropped to a quarter in the first quarter of 2010 as the number of applications and the utility of smart devices has increased substantially. That means about 20 million current smartphone users are hardly using data.
The industry has its work cut out for itself as it undergoes its most revolutionary shift to a post-voice-centric world. The priorities of large swaths of customers are shifting. Some operators have been better than others in adapting to the changing industry landscape and have been able to capitalize on it. As this trend continues, voice calls are increasingly commoditized and the average revenue per user on voice has been falling. Operators with the right cost structure will still be able to operate efficiently, effectively and profitably in this increasingly challenging voice segment, but most operators are condemned to sink or swim in the new data-centric world.