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More Smartphone Data Consumption Means More Content Consumption

By Dennis Jones

Smartphone Data Consumption

Recently, tech industry publication, FierceWireless, and consulting firm, P3, published their comprehensive (and I mean comprehensive) findings into smartphone data consumption in the U.S. They surveyed 2,300 participating smartphone users, taking nearly 11 million samples. So what exactly were they looking for? They set out to learn what people were doing with their smartphones.

For some time now, we’ve known that we’re a content-obsessed people. And to access that content on the go – since we’re also a very mobile people – we need a lot of data. But how much data? And on what networks? Those questions specifically have spurred much inquiry.

Over the course of Q42016, we’ve seen consistent increases in smartphone data consumption on cellular networks, coinciding with the (re-)introduction of unlimited plans by big carriers. And it turns out that when subscribers purchase unlimited plans, they go online more and consume more cellular data, on a daily basis. Who would have thought?

What about Wi-Fi? Well, Wi-Fi showed an impressive rebound over the last quarter of 2016, after posting a slight down-tick at the beginning of the year. Highlights include T-Mobile, whose subscribers’ Wi-Fi share reached all-time highs during the coverage period, and Verizon, whose subscribers use Wi-Fi to access apps more than half of the time.

So what content are people downloading when they do get online? Those findings also proved to be illuminating, if not altogether unexpected. In terms of usage time, Facebook leads across the big four carriers; YouTube also makes a sizeable impression. Facebook’s and YouTube’s lead holds as well when it comes to volume.

Interestingly, a demographic breakdown shows higher Wi-Fi use in younger cohorts. In fact, on aggregate, Wi-Fi is likely to be higher the younger a subscriber is, with the 25-and-under cohort leading the pack. There isn’t a similar demographic pattern for cellular use.

For the moment, we lack a detailed breakdown on the increasing share of U.S. mobile traffic that gets offloaded to Wi-Fi. Globally, it stands at more than 50 percent and rising.

So what can carriers take away from these smartphone data consumption findings? Well, for one, Sprint’s unlimited plan has moved scads of subscriber sessions over to cellular, with increases in usage time and daily data volume use.