Maravedis: How much data traffic do you consume?

By Cintia Garza, Team Leader 4GCounts & Market Analyst CALAWe all know the stresses that data traffic growth is putting on wireless network capacity. In order to understand what is causing this explosive growth in data usage, one must first understand which devices and related applications consume the most traffic.

While analyzing AT&T smartphone and notebook devices and applications supported by such devices, I discovered very interesting figures on data usage by device per application in the United States. What type of user are you? What applications you use? And how much traffic would you normally consume per day? The following table will give you a good idea depending on the different applications that you use and how often per day you use them.

An average residential (non-business) Smartphone user consumes per day approximately:

- 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 2.5hrs 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

In this example, the average smartphone residential user would consume between 200 and 300MB monthly. Currently, 65 percent of AT&T smartphone customers use less than 200 MB of data per month on average. Data usage varies of course from one user to another. While an average smartphone residential user would consume more traffic downloading songs, games, listening to streaming music, etc., a business user would consume 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 500 MB per month.

Now let's take a look at the data consumption for a laptop/notebook user. Laptop/notebook users normally consume more data on applications such as email, web pages viewed, 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.

 In my opinion, an average residential (non-business) laptop user would consume per day approximately:

- 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 

With this example, I just concluded the following: laptop users consume on average 4 times more data than smartphone users, consuming between 1 and 2 GB per month. The high amount of data traffic consumed by laptop users is normally offloaded with the use of Wi-Fi networks. However, smartphone users are the ones who cause the 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 none of the two previous examples, we are considering signaling. The majority of the network congestion is related to signaling traffic coming from smartphones, making constant queries of 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 percent to 50 percent, 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 long and uninterrupted data sessions infrequently; 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 who 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 (ex: road warrior, gamer, etc). How much traffic do you consume?

Cintia Garza is Team Leader 4GCounts & Market Analyst CALA. For more information, contact the author at [email protected]. Maravedis is a research and analysis firm focusing on BWA technologies. For more information visit