New report reinforces why operators are talking usage-based data pricing

A new report from mobile analyst Chetan Sharma indicates that U.S. mobile subscribers used almost 400 petabytes of data last year, up 193 percent from 2008. As expected, operator revenues are not staying in step with that growth.

Sharma said that data traffic outpaced voice traffic by nearly 400 terabytes in 2009, and he anticipates that ratio to double this year. Meanwhile, U.S. mobile data services revenues increased 24 percent year-over-year and are expected to only grow 20 percent in 2010.

Another bad sign for operators is the fact that voice ARPU declined substantially, by 98 cents for U.S. operators, and data revenues aren't picking up the slack. Data ARPU increased just 4 percent to 53 cents while overall ARPU decreased 45 cents on the year.

Hence, the continual discussion around usage-based data pricing. This week, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said he thinks the wireless industry is going to adopt usage-based pricing models for mobile data. While he did not provide specific plans for how AT&T Mobility might implement such pricing structures, he said there is a steady move toward those models.

For the industry, we'll progressively move toward more of what I call variable pricing so the heavy (use) consumers will pay more than the lower consumers," he said at an analyst conference Tuesday. His comments echo those recently made by AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega, who hinted at still-unspecified "incentives" to get subscribers to use less mobile data.

Verizon has also mentioned similar intentions. In January, Verizon Communications CTO Richard Lynch hinted that when Verizon Wireless launches its LTE network later this year, it will introduce a usage-based pricing model, charging customers by how much bandwidth they use.

For more:
- check out this GigaOm article
- see this FierceWireless article

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