Our Cellphone Data Usage

HTC-Incredible-S-SmartphoneLast week I looked at what we are downloading on home Internet connections. Today I am taking the same look at the latest statistics about what we download on our cellphones. These numbers represent downloading only through cellular connections and don’t include using cellphones on WiFi.

The first thing that strikes you about the numbers is how small the numbers are compared to landline data connections. We are literally using 100 times more data, on average, for a landline connection compared to the average cell phone. It’s obvious that people are still very cautious using their cellphone data. But the overall use of data on cellphones is rising and it is not going to take very many years of growth until the average person is bumping up against the normal 2 gigabit monthly cap on smaller cellphone plans. It’s clear in looking at these numbers that the cellular carriers have trained us not to use cellular data, but as I recently wrote, they are now trying to figure out ways to reverse that trend.

I compared the statistics from the first half of 2014 to the first half of 2012 just to see how things have changed. Consider the following chart that compares average cellular downloads in the US for the two periods.

Rank           1st Half 2012      Pct                1st Half 2014      Pct

1                   YouTube         27.2%             YouTube          17.6%

2                   HTTP               19.9%             Facebook         14.0%

3                   Facebook         8.7%              HTTP                 12.7%

4                   MPEG               7.2%              MPEG                 8.6%

5                   Pandora           5.4%              SSL                     6.5%

6                   SSL                    4.8%             Google Market   5.3%

7                   Google Market 3.5%             Pandora              5.2%

8                   Netflix               2.2%             Netflix                  5.1%

9                   Flash Video       1.7%             Instagram           3.5%

10                 Windows           1.7%             iTunes                  3.1%

  1. 3%             78.5%

To put this into perspective it’s also important to look at average Internet usage per cellular customer. Consider the following numbers:

.                                                        1st Half 2012   1st Half 2014     Pct Increase

Average Monthly Download              280 MB          404 MB               44%

Average Monthly Upload                     33 MB            69 MB              109%

Aggregate Monthly Usage                  313 MB          465 MB                50%

This shows that average cellphone download increased only 44% over a two year period. This is much slower than the 33% annual increase we see in landline data use. But uploads doubled over two years and maybe it’s all those selfies! Combining these two sets of statistics tells the real story. Following is the average download in megabits used by cellphone users for each of the top data applications in 2012 and 2014.

Rank                  1st Half 2012                         1st Half 2014

1                   YouTube         76.7 MB          YouTube            71.1 MB

2                   HTTP                55.7 MB          Facebook          56.6 MB

3                   Facebook         24.4 MB          HTTP                 51.3 MB

4                   MPEG               20.2 MB          MPEG                34.7 MB

5                   Pandora          15.1 MB           SSL                    26.3 MB

6                   SSL                   13.4 MB           Google Market 21.4 MB

7                   Google Market  9.8 MB           Pandora            21.0 MB

8                   Netflix                6.2 MB           Netflix                20.6 MB

9                   Flash Video        4.8 MB           Instagram          14.1 MB

10                 Windows            4.8 MB           iTunes                12.5 MB

If you look at the first table you would suppose that YouTube downloads are way down. But the second table shows YouTube is down only 7% over two years. There are a few uses of cellphones that are way up. Netflix is up 235% over two years. Facebook is up 132% over two years. And Google Market is up 118% over two years. The only thing other than YouTube that is slightly down over the last two years is HTTP, or web browsing.

If you trended this two years forward then Facebook will clearly become the predominant use on cellphones, followed by Netflix. YouTube and MPEG pictures would trend to become third and fourth. It’s obvious that video overall is growing on the cellphone faster than anything else, with social networking also a significant use.

It will be interesting to see what impact is felt over time as the wireless carriers push more data usage. Both AT&T and Verizon have been pushing bigger family plans in the attempt to get people off their WiFi and back onto their 4G networks. It’s pretty obvious that, on average, people are not using a lot more data on their cellphones and continue, on the whole to be cautious. This is not to say that there are not many people who use a lot of data or that there are not already a lot of people who exceed their monthly data plans. These statistics represent the nationwide averages. Cellular companies report that data sales are way up, while these numbers show that average usage is not. One has to think that perhaps people are buying more data than they actually use.

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