Mobile data usage is increasing at an unprecendented rate, especially with the introduction of the Apple iPhone 4S last year, which is posing a challenge to mobile operators that have to provide their users with cost-effective data services.
According to networking company Arieso, there is an explosive growth in mobile data demand, with 1 percent of an operator's subscribers consuming half of all downloaded data. This "hunger" for data comes from the fact that more people are now downloading videos and apps on their mobile device and engaging more often in mobile browsing, Michael Flanagan, CTO of Arieso, said in a phone interview.
The company based its findings from assessing only one European operator over 24 hours in mid-November, studying the amount of data transmitted and received over that time period. It compared data usage across several smartphones and connected devices.
When queried, Flanagan could not reveal the total number of subscribers the European operator had, and noted that it had declined to be named.
Citing further findings from the exercise, he said the operator's iPhone 4S users demanded 3 times as much data as iPhone 3G users, and twice as much as iPhone 4 users who had been the most demanding in 2010 when a similar study was conducted. Consistent with 2010's results, though, were Google Nexus One users who made twice as many data calls compared to iPhone 3G users.
Device type affects data usage
Different users and different devices also exhibited different demands on the network, Flanagan said. The introduction of the iPhone 4S also had a significant impact on data usage as users of the device downloaded 2.76 times as much data as iPhone 3G users.
Android-powered devices remained at the top of the table for uplink data volumes, where HTC Desire S users typically uploaded 3.23 times as much data as iPhone 3G users. iPhone 4S users fell just behind in this category, uploading 3.2 times more data than iPhone 3G users.
Flanagan noted that the "dramatic" increase of data of iPhone 4S was driven by its cloud-based synchonization and voice command function, Siri. He explained that when users spoke to the phone, the amount of data transmitted would experience a spike.
On the other hand, HTC Desire experienced substantial data usage due to the large amounts of user-generated content, he added.
He also pointed to BlackBerry devices as having the lowest data demands. According to Flanagan, BlackBerry users typipcally fall into two groups which typically both have low data usages: CEOs and high-level executives who send "short business-like e-mail", as well as adolecences, who use BlackBerry more for texting. These two activities do not demand much data, he noted.
Challenge to make data value for money
"The introduction of increasingly sophisticated devices, coupled with growing consumer demand, is creating unrelenting pressure on mobile networks," Flanagan said. "The capacity crunch is still a very real threat for mobile operators, and it looks set to only get harder in 2012."
He added that the mobile industry needs new investment and approaches to boost network performance and manage customer experience.
He noted that the main challenge faced by the mobile and network operators was the need to supply data to mobile users in a cost-effective manner, in order to satisfy their customers.
"Without adequately preparing networks to support the new generation of smart devices, operators risk spiralling and misplaced operational expenditure and delivering a sub-par quality of experience to customers," Flanagan said. "It's critical that operators redoube their efforts to limit the impact of this inevitable squeeze."