Data traffic habits of smartphone users

We all know the stresses that data traffic growth is putting on wireless network capacity. After analyzing data usage of smartphones and notebooks and the applications they support on AT&Ts network, I gained a better understand what is causing this explosive growth in data usage (see table below).
The average smartphone residential user consumes between 200 and 300MB monthly. Currently, 65% of AT&T smartphone customers use less than 200MB of data per month on average.

Average residential (non-business) smartphone user consumes per day:

  • Less than 10 emails sent/received (no attachments) = 2.5MB
  • 1 email with photo attachment = 10MB
  • 3 emails sent/received (with attachment) = 12 MB
  • Average 5 minutes of streaming music per day (or total 2.5 hrs per month) = 72MB
  • 5 web pages visited = 25MB
  • 0-1 applications downloaded (games/songs) per day= 60MB
  • 10 social media posts = 14 MB
  • Average 1 minute of streaming video per day or (30 minutes per month) = 60 MB
TOTAL DATA USAGE PER MONTH = ~ 255.5MB per month
Average residential (non-business) laptop user consumes per day:
  • 20 emails sent/received (no attachments) = 20MB
  • 5 emails with photo attachment = 14.5MB
  • 5 emails sent/received (with attachment) = 5MB
  • Average 1 songs downloaded per day= 120MB
  • 10 web pages visited = 90MB 
- 20 social media Posts = 290 MB
  • 5 minutes of streaming video per day = 440MB


While an average smartphone residential user consumes more traffic downloading songs, games, listening to streaming music, etc., a business user consumes more traffic on sending/receiving emails with and without attachments, the number of web pages visited would probably be higher, and the hours of streaming video per day for video conferencing, for instance, would be higher. This business user would consume approximately 500MB per month.
Turning to the laptop/notebook user, he or she normally consumes more data on applications such as email, web pages, social media posts uploaded and streaming video. Smartphone users would normally consume more data on applications such as games and music downloads and streaming music.
I found that that laptop users consume an average of four times more data than smartphone users, consuming between 1 and 2GB per month. The data traffic created by laptop users is normally offloaded with the use of Wi-Fi networks. However, smartphone users are the more likely cause of data congestion on 3G networks, since they are on the move and demand heavy amounts of data capacity from the 3G network.
The rapidly surging growth of smartphones could soon lead to the outstripping of network operators' capacity and their ability to ensure the smooth flow of data across their networks.
However, in the two previous examples we didn't consider signaling. The majority of the network congestion is related to signaling traffic coming from smartphones constantly querying the network as they move among cell sites to push email, access social networking tools and conduct other repetitive actions. While data traffic is also growing, signaling traffic is outpacing actual mobile data traffic by 30 to 50%, if not more.
If we take a look at the history of 3G, it was designed and implemented to support large amounts of data traffic. People anticipated infrequent, long and uninterrupted data sessions; the focus was on bandwidth and throughput. What is happening instead is that people are snacking. They are consuming modest amounts of data but doing numerous transactions, via web browsing, emails, messaging, etc.
So, it is not smartphones per se that are causing the problem, and neither is it all about data usage. The market segmentation of business vs. residential is becoming less relevant and a growing trend is the segmentation by device/usage type (ie. road warrior, gamer, etc).
Cintia Garza, Team Leader 4GCounts & Market Analyst CALA, Maravedis