Study: Smartphone users gobble more data than tablet subscribers

In N. America, carrier response is focused on LTE deployment, small cells
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Smartphone users are actually consuming more data on a per-user basis than tablet subscribers for the first time, according to a new research report from network technology firm Arieso. The finding is notable because tablet users are often seen as the most data-hungry because of their propensity to use their gadgets for video and other media consumption.

The report was the third-annual study from Arieso analyzing mobile network trends. Arieso, which advises carriers in the United States, Europe and Asia, as well as companies including Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) and Nokia Siemens Networks, found that out of the top 10 most data-intensive devices (excluding USB modems) six were smartphones, three were tablets and one was a phablet. The tablets on the list were at Nos. 4, 8 and 9.

Arieso found that users of the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone 5 consume more downlink data than any other smartphone user the firm studied and more than four times the amount of benchmark iPhone 3G users. While the addition of LTE in the iPhone 5 is likely a cause of this, Arieso did not take a firm position, but it noted that a faster processor and better display were likely factors. The firm also found that one Samsung Galaxy S III user generates on average almost as much uplink data as four iPhone 3G users, and that the HTC Sensation XL generated the most signaling traffic per user of any device.

"Apple, Samsung and HTC each had devices that were consistently consuming more data than tablets," Arieso CTO and study author Michael Flanagan told FierceWireless. "That was the most surprising detail from this report."

Arieso reported that the hungriest 1 percent of all subscribers consume 40 percent of the downlink data volume, which is actually down from 50 percent the firm reported last year. The firm attributed the change to normal market dynamics and no one specific reason. Arieso noted that USB modems made up 54 percent of the top 1 percent of data users, while smartphones accounted for 40 percent and tablets made up 6 percent.

In response to all of this data traffic, Arieso noted that more and more operators are turning to small cells to augment their macro cellular networks. However, Flanagan said that carriers need to be judicious about where they deploy small cells to get the most capacity bang for their buck and that there is a diminishing return in network investment beyond the first two or three small cells deployed in a congested part of the network.

In the North American market in particular, where LTE penetration is strong, carriers will be focused on building out their macro LTE networks. Flanagan said operators need to focus on where customers are actually using the network and are in need of capacity when deciding how to deploy or augment LTE coverage.

For more:
- see this release
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this Reuters article

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