Last week saw two sets of stories tied to a single report that made bombastic assertions about changing mobile data usage patterns. While the assertions themselves are a bit misleading, they do point to an underlying truth – when using data on the go is easy and useful, people do it.
Everything flowed from a report by Arieso, a company that just happens to sell mobile network management solutions to carriers. Reports focused on two main claims from Arieso’s report. First, that iPhone 4S users use twice as much data as iPhone 4 users. The alleged culprit there is Siri, the digital assistant that is included in the iPhone 4S but not the iPhone 4. Second, that 1% of mobile users consume half of the world’s data. For that we can thank “data hogs.”
When you look a bit closer, neither of these claims are as surprising as they may appear. As Ars Technica’s Jacqui Cheng discovered two months ago, in all likelihood the Siri service itself uses a relatively small amount of data. That means the data spike does not come from Siri per se.
Instead, the spike is facilitated by Siri. Actually, the spike is probably facilitated by a combination of Siri and the improved hardware of the 4S that makes accessing data on the go easier and more useful. That ability to deliver an improved mobile experience (along with the correlation between newest phone ownership and heavy using early adopters) is also why the Samsung Galaxy S is the most data intensive Android phone. A better mobile experience makes you more likely to use more mobile data more often. As such, the headline could just as easily read “People Use More Data When It Is Easier and More Useful.”
The same can be said about the 1% of users are responsible for 50% of mobile data traffic statistic. First, the report appears toinclude “feature phones” – as in not smart phones – in the sample pool. That means that a large number of the 99% have phones that are nearly useless as mobile data devices. Second, a majority (almost 2/3) of the 1% are laptop users connected to mobile networks. The conclusion from this report is not that a few people are crowding out the rest of us. Instead, the conclusion is that people who can make lots of use of mobile data will use mobile data.
Why is this important? The report becomes further evidence that the always elusive “data hogs” are really just people using the network as it is sold to them. Do you finally have a smartphone that does lots of useful things? Using it makes you a data hog. Did you pay to connect your laptop to a mobile network? Using it makes you a data hog. Do you have a feature phone that gives you the option to pay an extra $10 a month to see sports scores on a tiny screen? When you decide not to take carriers up on that offer, you become the well behaved “normal” user.
As more and more people get useful mobile devices, they will naturally start to use them. A big reason that we launched WhatIsMyCap.org is to help people understand the conflict between reasonable data use and restrictive data caps. Until wireless carriers can explain how they set their caps, how they evaluate those caps, and how those caps could be changed going forward, expect more stories about those crazy people trying to actually use their mobile devices.