Average Smartphone Data Use Increases, Still Less Than You Might Think

According to a recent wireless study by the Nielsen Co., the typical smartphone user consumes less than 300MB of data each month. This figure represents an increase of about 230 percent compared to last year's figure. Considering the increasing popularity of data-intensive mobile services such as video chat and Hulu streaming services, we have to expect that mobile data use will continue to rise.

The Nielsen Co. sorted through about 60,000 mobile bills to discover that the average smartphone user was consuming about 298MB of data each month. As you may recall, AT&T recently unveiled new, tiered data plans. The lowest tier offers only 200MB of data for $15 per month. Although this allotment is less than many users are consuming, the next tier from AT&T offers 2GB per month for $25. In other words, if you're a "typical" smartphone user, you should have no problem staying within the limits of AT&T's 2GB DataPro plan.

Roger Entner, Nielsen analyst and SVP, noted that the figures from Nielsen suggest that the "vast majority" of smartphone users are paying for "much more data than they ever use." In other words, tiered plans such as those recently unveiled by AT&T may not be so bad after all.

Of course, AT&T's tiered data plans may not suffice for very long. Just one year ago the average smartphone user consumed only about 90MB of data each month. Considering this increase of approximately 230 percent in a single year, consumers could quickly outgrow the low-tier plans, particularly as more users begin to take advantage of streaming video over 3G and 4G networks as well as upcoming apps such as those from Netflix and Hulu.

If you were wondering how much an app such as Netflix or Hulu would affect your data usage, consider this: The bloggers at Clicker ran the numbers and found that streaming an hour of video on the Netflix iPad app consumed about 150MB of data. ABC's streaming app consumed about 200MB of data while streaming an hour-long TV show to the iPad.

Interestingly enough, the Nielsen report also found that approximately one-third of smartphone users (or about 20 million subscribers) are using 1MB or less of data each month. What's even more shocking is that 25 percent of smartphone-toting subscribers are using zero MB per month. That's right—zero, nada, zilch. Although this percentage seems high, we have heard of BlackBerry and other smartphone users who pay for these pricey smartphones and data plans yet only use the phone for calling and texting. Shocking, isn't it?