- Smartphone users now consistently consume more mobile data than tablet users
- iPhone 5 users are the “hungriest” data consumers, demanding 50% more than iPhone 4S users and four times as much as iPhone 3G users
- 40% of all data is consumed by 1% of users, but LTE starting to take the strain
14 January 2013, Newbury, UK – For the third year running Arieso has unveiled the latest trends in mobile data usage in a new report. Using ariesoGEO to provide insight into the nature of billions of mobile connections, Arieso’s most recent analysis reveals new challenges for the world’s operators from 2013 onwards. Despite a surge in the market for tablets, smartphone users have overtaken tablet users in their thirst for mobile data for the first time. As overall mobile data consumption continues to rocket, driven by new devices and richer content, the study suggests that extreme users are beginning to move to new LTE networks, but there is no let up on existing networks.
“Yet again we found that novel usage patterns, new technologies and regional idiosyncrasies are conspiring to make life increasingly difficult for mobile operators trying to meet evolving customer expectations. The ability to conduct detailed analysis such as this is critical in giving operators a rich source of intelligence to help boost network performance and enrich user experience,” said study author and Arieso CTO, Dr. Michael Flanagan.
Tablets, ‘phablets’ and smartphones
For the first time, smartphone users are consistently consuming more mobile data than tablet users. Out of the top ten most voracious devices (excluding dongles) six were smartphones, three tablets and one a ‘phablet’. Tablet users placed 4th, 8th and 9th.
“This is pretty counterintuitive, but it seems the capabilities of the newest smartphones – not tablets - are unleashing even greater user demand. Once you move away from raw consumption statistics, the most remarkable finding is the way in which people use smartphones and tablets,” continued Flanagan. “Regardless of device type and operating system, there is very little variation in the usage ‘signature’ between smartphone users and between tablet users. From this we discover that voice-capable ‘phablets’ – like the Samsung Galaxy Note II - are currently being used like smartphones, not tablets. If you can use it to make a phone call, the ‘phablet’ won’t be much like a tablet at all.”
The ‘i’s still have it: but for how long?
From the 125 devices studied, users of the latest iPhone again proved the most voracious data consumers. But for the first time in three years, this dominance is being challenged.
Users of the iPhone 5 demand four times as much data as iPhone 3G users and 50% more than iPhone 4S users (the most demanding in the 2012 study). However, Samsung Galaxy S III users generate (upload rather than download – photos, videos etc.) nearly four times the amount of data than iPhone 3G users, beating iPhone 5 users into third place on uplink data usage behind the Samsung Galaxy Note II. And in the rapidly growing tablet market, Samsung Tab 2 10.1 users have asserted their dominance - demanding 20% more data than iPad users.
Dongles dash for LTE
Last year, the study revealed that 1% of users consume 50% of the downlink data on 3G/UMTS networks. This year, the hungriest 1% consume 40% (the hungriest 0.1% consume almost 20%, the hungriest 10% consume 80% of the downlink data) as LTE starts to make an impact.
“The region we studied this year has recently launched LTE, and we’re already seeing extreme users – especially those with dongles – starting to flock to 4G,” said Flanagan. “In many respects, this is great news – LTE networks are doing their job. But the consumption levels and patterns of LTE use are very different to what operators could expect from 3G. It’s a complex, fluid and increasingly high stakes situation for operators to deal with. Having performance engineering solutions that can reveal the customer experience across multiple technologies is going to be vital to understanding this going forward.”
Network operator response: LTE, SON and small cells
LTE introduces much-needed bandwidth and relieves pressure on UMTS networks. However, operators cannot relax their focus on network planning, optimisation and performance - LTE holds a sting in its tail.
“For three years now we’ve seen how greater technical capabilities lead to greater data consumption by consumers. From our own experience helping operators around the world prepare their networks for evolving user demands, we hypothesise that LTE alone won’t ‘solve’ the data problem – it will exacerbate it,” warned Flanagan.
Arieso is finding that to effectively meet the needs and expectations of LTE customers and extreme users, a different approach to network design is required. Small cells will be important, but the placing and management of these assets must be undertaken with even greater surgical precision.
“Way back in history (relatively speaking) the NGMN defined a number of use cases for ‘Self-Organising Networks’. The very first was for the placement of base stations. With the right location intelligence pervading the network – identifying where, for example, extreme LTE users congregate – operators will immediately know where to place small cell assets,” said Flanagan. “SON for small cells will also help operators attack some of the other challenges with hetnets including interference management, inter-radio access technology handover and coverage and capacity optimization.”
The study data originates from a tier-one European operator but is relevant to operators around the world because relative consumption between device users remains constant between geographies. The regional differences, therefore, relate to the operating conditions in each market:
Latin America: Network operators in the region are experiencing a ‘perfect storm’. Numerous reports predict substantial growth rates for mobile data consumption in Latin America, but most networks have only been designed and optimized for voice. The characteristics of mobile data mean that any substantial increase in use will dramatically shrink coverage and quality of service on voice-optimized networks. Meanwhile, in-building performance will also suffer. The impact has manifested quickly with national regulators intervening with aggressive sanctions in Brazil. The study findings confirm the reasons that Latin American operators are using Arieso’s technology to be quicker to plan, roll-out and optimize their networks to be ready for the surge in data usage that the newest smartphones unleash amongst consumers.
Asia Pacific: Network operators in developed Asia Pacific – specifically South East Asia – are expected to experience similar data growth rates as in Latin America, but start from a much higher base. At the same time many operators in this region are much more familiar with the demands of mobile data consumers and LTE networks. However, even with the new bandwidth and spectral efficiency provided by LTE, operators cannot sustain long term data growth projections. Accelerating effective small cell strategies – including the use of SON for small cells - will be critical if Asia Pacific operators are to avoid spectral exhaustion and the attention of regulators, as experienced recently in Singapore.
Other regions are addressed in the full report.
“Wherever they are in the world, operators have to deal with similar challenges created by extreme data use,” concluded Flanagan. “Every year, the situation gets tougher and more complicated. But it is worth remembering two salient points. One, that these challenges only result from our industry’s incredible success in creating devices, services and networks that billions of people want to use every hour of every day. Two, that these puzzles are surmountable through careful attention to the needs of subscribers where they demand services from the network.”
Arieso has published the detailed findings of its latest studies, conducted utilising its ariesoGEO location intelligence solution, together with in-depth analysis in its report “Smartphones Trump Tablets: Recent Trends in Extreme Data” which is available upon request.