Report: LTE subscribers buy larger-volume data plans than 3G users

New research released separately by Mobidia and Citrix highlights continuing challenges faced by mobile operators as they seek to monetize data usage.

On a positive note, LTE subscribers are buying larger-volume limited-data plans than their 3G counterparts, said Mobidia, which collaborated with analyst firm Informa on its research.  

"Operators are having success in reestablishing this link between data usage and revenues as they get people weaned away from unlimited plans," Chris Hill, Mobidia's vice president of marketing, told FierceBroadbandWireless.

However, Mobidia also found that for users with 1 GB data plans and over, LTE smartphone users are similar to 3G users in that they use one-third or less of their data allowance per month. "This is really significant underutilization," said Hill, and poses a risk for operators that their LTE customers may yet migrate to lower data tiers.

Interestingly, LTE subscribers also use less Wi-Fi than their 3G counterparts. According to Mobidia, during April 2013 Wi-Fi represented 67 percent of all data usage by LTE subscribers vs. 72 percent of the 3G subscribers.

However, the firm noted that growth in Wi-Fi usage by all subscribers has continued to outpace both 3G and LTE data usage growth. "Wi-Fi data consumption represented significantly more than 70 percent of total data used on a smartphone and is growing faster than cellular usage," said Mobidia.

The companies came to their conclusions after examining LTE usage in Canada, Germany, Korea, Japan, United Kingdom and the United States over a span of eight months, ending in April 2013. Mobidia collects anonymous usage information from its Mobidia My Data Manager application, which is available for Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)  iPhones and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android phones.

Global, LTE and Wi-Fi as % of Total Data Use for LTE Android Users, Selected Operators, April 2013

Source: Mobidia

The data also showed that applications valued by customers while they are on the move--such as Google Maps--as well as social media apps were used by more 4G subscribers. Data-hungry apps such as music services saw a drop in usage over the cellular networks and an upswing on Wi-Fi networks, according to Mobidia.

However, the latest Citrix ByteMobile Mobile Analytics Report for the second quarter of 2013 stated that mobile audio, particularly music, has started generating a meaningful percentage of overall data traffic. It now represents 12 percent of mobile data volume in North America and 4 percent outside the region. Of the total volume of mobile audio measured over the period, Internet radio constitutes the vast majority, said Citrix.

"The recent announcement by Apple of iTunes Radio suggests that Internet radio will continue its strong growth as iTunes Radio traffic adds to that driven by popular applications such as Spotify and Pandora," added the company.

Further, the report revealed that 82 percent of mobile video entertainment traffic is generated by YouTube, which generates little or no revenue for operators beyond the data-usage charges.

Network operators must improve subscribers' mobile experience "in order to distinguish their service offerings and better monetize the increase in traffic volume," said Chris Koopmans, Citrix's vice president and general manager of service provider platforms.

For more:
- see this Mobidia release
- see this Citrix release

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