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Unlimited unnecessary? NPD report finds average smartphone data use is below 2 GB

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Unlimited data plans are enjoying something of a renaissance this week, with announcements of new unlimited plans from MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS) and T-Mobile USA. Yet a fresh report from research firm NPD Connected Intelligence suggests that such plans are not needed by most subscribers.

According to the new data, first reported by Tech News Daily, the vast majority of smartphone subscribers at Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) and T-Mobile USA do not use more than 2 GB of data per month, which is the base tier for most usage-based smartphone data plans (Sprint still offers unlimited smartphone data).

NPD Connected Intelligence collected its data from an app on 1,000 Android smartphones that tracks how much data people consume each month. The research firm is going to add information from iPhones in the next few months.

NPD's findings indicate that 11 percent of T-Mobile customers use more than 3 GB per month, versus 4 percent for AT&T and Sprint and 3 percent for Verizon. "T-Mobile consumers tend to be younger," NPD analyst Eddie Hold told Tech News Daily. "Younger demographics are the ones we find hit the network harder by doing a little video and music streaming."

Indeed, the T-Mobile figure is not that surprising. In June T-Mobile revealed that customers with smartphones capable of accessing the carrier's HSPA+ 42 Mbps network consume an average of 1.3 GB per month.

Yet overall, most customers are not approaching the 2 GB threshold. In the first quarter of 2012 the average U.S. mobile subscriber used 450 MB of data per month (including smartphone and non-smartphone users), according to research firm Nielsen. That figure is more than double the average of 208 MB per month for all U.S. mobile subscribers in the first quarter of 2011.

The Nielsen data suggested that average data usage has been increasing fairly rapidly but is nowhere close to 2 GB per month. Yet carriers' data revenue has been soaring as well. Mobile operators in the U.S. raked in second quarter 2012 data revenues of $19.3 billion, up 5 percent quarter-over-quarter and a 19 percent year-over-year increase despite the ongoing erosion of messaging revenues, according to new research from Chetan Sharma Consulting.

Executives from both AT&T and Verizon have said usage-based and shared data pricing are an attempt to generate more cash from data use.

For more:
- see this Tech News Daily article

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