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The Case of Mobile Users' Bandwidth Consumption and Causality

It started with a report in the New York Times, citing a study from Arieso, saying that "Top 1% of Mobile Users Consume Half of World's Bandwidth":

The world's congested mobile airwaves are being divided in a lopsided manner, with 1 percent of consumers generating half of all traffic. The top 10 percent of users, meanwhile, are consuming 90 percent of wireless bandwidth.

The Times article had another tidbit in it:

Arieso researchers, in their latest survey, found that users of Apple's iPhone 4S downloaded 276 percent more data from an operator's network than did people with the Apple 3G, which has been on the market since June 2008.

Arieso said that part of the reason for the increase in download volumes may be Apple's Siri voice feature on the iPhone 4S which allows consumers to dictate to the phone and enter more text and data into the network in an easier way.

Other news outlets picked up the story and lost all perspective. The Globe carried a Reuters story titled "iPhone 4S devours data twice as fast as previous model". Let's overlook the mathematical incorrectness of the headline ("twice as fast" would have meant only 100% more data, not the 276% — or nearly 4 times as much). The Financial Post carried a Bloomberg story proclaiming in its headline "Siri doubles iPhone data usage".

The Globe/Reuters story more accurately hints at user consumption patterns, rather than the device itself, but it doesn't do much more than recite raw data:

IPhone 4S users transfer on average three times more data than users of the older iPhone 3G model which was used as the benchmark in a study by telecom network technology firm Arieso.

Data usage of the previous model, the iPhone 4, was only 1.6 times higher than the iPhone 3G, while iPad 2 tablets consumed 2.5 times more data than the iPhone 3G, the study showed.

It is possible — and more likely — that the data is demonstrating important market information: that the heaviest users of mobile data are the ones most likely to own the latest devices. It isn't the device that is "devouring" data; it is power users that own the devices. These are the early adopters — the people who line-up to buy the latest device on launch day.

That was what I found most interesting, with important implications for consumer marketing and network development strategists.

By Mark Goldberg, Telecommunications Consultant

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