A recently published report by a mobile industry analyst, Chetan Sharma, covered many of the mobile trends that have occurred this year, most notably the complete and utter explosion of mobile data usage. While many of the biggest carriers have implemented data caps, their users are using ever more data and setting new records for mobile data usage. Sharma claims that this is due to the fact that in 2013 we have had an explosion of 4G connected devices and the trend of ever bigger displays. I would also argue that the ever increasing resolution of smartphone cameras is also partially responsible, because with the increased image sizes people are using ever more bandwidth on the networks. The same is true about 1080P video, since most people generally record and upload 1080P videos.
One of the interesting trends that I think Sharma missed was the explosion of services like Instagram and Snapchat adopting video. Sure, those services are designed not to be anywhere nearly as intensive as using YouTube, but if you look at the usage model, people are sharing their pictures and videos via Snapchat and Instagram to hundreds of people who watch those videos and then upload responses which in turn end up chewing tens if not hundreds of megabytes per day.
There is also the presence of cloud backup services like Google+ and iCloud which give you the option to upload your images over 4G/3G even when not connected to WiFi. I have personally seen that if I use this feature in conjunction with a few other cloud services my dad usage goes over 3 GB per month. I would also argue that one of the unspoken factors in the mobile data growth this year is also the fact that many of us have more apps on our devices than ever before and the good developers are doing good jobs of updating their apps. Sometimes, these updates end up while we’re not at home and one can easily burn up a few hundred megabytes a month from this alone.
Sharma reported that in countries like Sweden, mobile users are already chewing up in excess of 7 GB/mo while in the US we are seeing some Android devices exceeding 4 GB/mo. The New York Times Bits Blog reports that US mobile internet traffic nearly doubled this year, to an average of 1.2 GB/mo per user this year. This presents a very troubling trend for the mobile carriers that have mobile data caps because many of their consumers are locked into data plans that are generally measured in 1 GB increments starting with 2GB, which is already pushing the 1.2 GB/mo average. It was already known that the mobile carriers are not suffering from a bandwidth crisis that has caused them to implement these caps, but rather a drive to increase profitability (as we had all suspected).
The real truth is that if Verizon and AT&T continue to adopt their ridiculous prices and low bandwidth caps, they will be destroyed by T-Mobile and Sprint. Admittedly, T-Mobile is the only competitive carrier against AT&T and Verizion, but people are switching over to T-Mobile in droves, it is like nothing I have ever seen before. With their uncarrier campaign they have done away with opaque contracts and 2 year agreements. They also introduced free international data and SMS roaming and a free 200 MB per month on all tablets. They also have an upgrade program that doesn’t suck and simultaneously protects your monthly investment. They’ve pushed Verizon and AT&T into doing things that they simply never would’ve done on their own, and that’s just amazing. Even Sharma notes it in his blog, stating that T-Mobile bucked the trends and made the carriers react.
Now, Sprint is part of SoftBank but the truth is that we really haven’t seen anything come out of Sprint that would lead us to believe yet that they’re a competitive carrier. Right now, people are leaving Sprint and there are rumors that Sprint may be looking to buy T-Mobile, which I do not think is a good thing for the industry. If Sprint can use SoftBank’s money and spectrum from Clearwire to improve their network and adopt similar principals as T-Mobile, we could see AT&T and Verizon be forced to become more competitive as consumers begin to go over their data caps. Eventually, if both Sprint and T-Mobile become the only unlimited data offerings in the market, many people would happily switch from Verizon and AT&T where they are forced to pay overages for going over their data caps.
After all, who wants to pay more for less? And right now, it looks like T-Mobile’s data offering is more than a bit more attractive. I can personally attest to this as I recently traveled to London and have been stuck to WiFi networks in the past, but now was able to easily navigate the city and upload pictures as I traveled. Such little things are going to become ever more important in this globalized world where more and more people find themselves traveling internationally.