Nielsenwire released new smartphone figures this morning, with a focus on data consumption. Topping the list of the data consumers amongst the smartphone OS's was, of course, Android.


The average Android user utilizes 582MB (or roughly .6GB) of data per month - far less than what is allocated by any of the major carrier's plans. We often hear about consumers becoming feisty over data plan tier-ification or throttling, but how many people do these caps and throttles actually affect? According to Nielsen, less than 3% of smartphone users average data consumption exceeding 2GB per month. Now, this is combining all platforms - though Android obviously makes up the majority.


The top 1%, though, exceed 4GB each month. Now, I'm happy to admit I consume about 2.5-3GB of data each month that AT&T is perfectly content to charge me an additional $10 for using, bringing my monthly data costs to $35. It's not exactly cheap. But I rarely find myself thinking "Gee, data tiers are universally bad for consumers and rip everyone off." Why? Because I know I'm in the vast minority in regard to my data habits. I stream high-quality MP3's through Subsonic on a near daily basis. I use Pandora 10 hours or more a month. I send ridiculously large e-mail attachments with photos and screenshots. And I'm on the nation's most data-restrictive carrier.

Why, then, does it seem that the entirety of the Android-using community has a foaming-at-the-mouth hatred of data tiers?

I've always thought that the "vocal minority" theory was the culprit, and Nielsen's figures have finally given that theory legs (in my mind, at least). If the average Android user really is only sucking up 600 megs or so every month, then the adoption of tiers will only have a positive effect on the average user's service (and might even lower their monthly bill). It's not a hard conclusion to reach - many heavy users, in light of data tiers, will curb their excessive consumption habits, freeing up bandwidth for those who use less in the first place.

Of course, there's the counterargument - "how much impact is that top 1% really having on the network?" And that's a question I don't think anyone but the carrier's network technicians or those privy to what is probably pretty well-protected data can answer completely. It's certainly some impact, though. When I read comments about Verizon LTE users drinking down 40GB of data because of the free Mobile Hotspot promotion, I start to see things from the carriers' point of view.

But more than anything, tiers have a psychological effect - people think about when they're using data, and rather than upload those 30 photos from your niece's second cousin's 5th birthday party to Picasa while you're on 3G as you listen to Pandora and stream YouTube videos of cats doing hilariously adorable things while you're driving on the freeway, you might wait until you get home to the Wi-Fi network. Just maybe.

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • http://emuneee.com Evan

    I completely agree. I think tiers:

    1) make people think about their data consumption
    2) chase the heavy users off of the network -or- charge them for their use if they stay


    The problem is that the lowest tier will probably be at the current $30.

    Also, nobody wants to be limited after they've had a taste of unlimited. Data consumption rates are only going to increase.

  • fins1771

    The avg data consumption is so low since most if data users are on tiers. How many more customers are there on ATT, Verizon, tmo, and all others on tiers vs. the amount of customers with unlimited data on those networks plus Sprint. I never once think about my bill with Sprint. I'll never go over unlimited. If everyone had true unlimited data the avg would definitely be higher.

  • TBDF

    I am proudly in that top 1%, on Verizon's network, and I definitely agree with the counterargument that we aren't sucking usage dry for everyone else. Verizon's choice to offer free mobile hotspot was theirs as a carrier, and the ensuing data usage can't be seen as a normal (even for the top 1%) amount of usage under standard contracts.

    So let's assume we end up with tiered data plans - what we would see is a more conservative approach to usage. But then I wonder; for a network that ends up hoarding a ton of unused data, what good does it do for the user?

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/jaroslav-stekl/ Jaroslav Stekl

      Not to rain on your parade, but as of June 16, Verizon's mobile hotspot service is no longer free. It now costs $30/month once more.

      • TBDF

        Oh, I know, I was just saying that the fact that it was promotional was the reason Verizon saw such high data usage. I'm not sure what Verizon is anticipating for continued use of hotspot, but if I were crunching the numbers, I don't think it would be a suprise to see an 80% drop in usage over promotional numbers. And even for those that continue to use the service, I don't think it would he fair to assume they would keeping using at such an unrealistic level. The circumstances were different when Verizon was seeing 40 gb of usage a month.

      • Richard Dillon
  • http://www.firefoxbackup.com david

    Personally, if they are doing tiers, they should start at 250 megs for 5.00, 500 for 10.00 etc..

    Why punish everyone?

  • http://robert.aitchison.org Robert Aitchison

    Tiers if done right will benefit the majority of customers and make a few select "data hogs" pay.

    For us we have my wife on the T-Mobile $15/mo 200MB plan, it's great because she's never used more than 50MB in a month.

    I use around 500MB a month but that's enough to keep me out of the 200MB plan, I get 5GB of which I use 10% of. If the next tier was at 1GB for $20/mo I'd guess 80% of people could jump on that and be perfectly happy.

    Personally I like the idea of tiered plans, it means I don't have to pay extra to subsidize people who (in my opinion) use their data irresponsibly.

    • Colluphid

      People are not "data hogs" if they use the bandwidth THEY PAY FOR. I'm sorry that you don't use a lot of data, but those with above average usage are not breaking any rules. They pay their bill like anyone else.

  • L boogie

    Tiered data is just one more means for the carriers to hit the consumers' pockets, just offer the choice of unlimited or limited gigabytes.... Yes, there are those who abuse the current system but don't punish the entire consumer base for the actions of a few but I have no interest in tiered data due to my current unlimited plan on verizon, costly as it is already

  • Private

    My first PC came with a 220 meg hard drive. The salesman told me I would never fill that.

    How about we break up the current 4 carrier dominated market, make it easier for new competition to enter and let everyone bill however they want. How long do you think tiered data plans will survive with REAL competition?

  • Mike

    And there are plenty of apps that show you your current data usage...so if you are not near your cap (if you have one) you can "upload 30 photos from your niece’s second cousin’s 5th birthday party to Picasa while you’re on 3G as you listen to Pandora and stream YouTube videos of cats doing hilariously adorable things while you’re driving on the freeway"

    All it takes is a 5 second google search for Andorid Data usage app and you'll never have to complain you didn't know.

  • Kyle

    They say the network can't handle my data use but AT&T will happily take my money to use their crap service I'm switching to virgin mobile next month because they know how to run a business

  • SleepinInCA

    I call bullshit on this whole article. I am sure the results are biased. Probly taken from older folks with a buisness mind set. The younger generation have this to say.....fuck you and your tiers......fuck you and your throttle. I pay 30 bux for unlimited....why the fuck should I pay 20 - 30 for a limit? Idiots. Plus with 4g those consumers will actually be able to USE data finally. This is fucking lunacy.

    • pppanda

      You're one of those loud mouthed 12 yr olds shouting N#%#$ on xbox arent you?

  • Mike

    I used to use between 3 and 4 GB a month regularly on my phone, even more when I was on the road and tethering. When T-Mo started capping and sending out warning letters I simply turned on my wifi and used that where available. Now my usage floats around 1GB a month.

    So while the findings may reflect actual usage, I am not sure it accurately reflects what users would be using if caps were not in place.

  • Skillit

    I'm on a 300MB data plan and a have never exceeded. How I do that ?

    easy I only use the 3G for navigation, e-mail social networks and Android 's Background stuff. My music is downloaded, and I wait until I'm on WiFi to upload stuff and navigate the web.I don't get why it's so hard for people to wait for a WiFi to do most of their date traffic, there is WiFi everywhere.


    I am one of the mythical datahogs and I pay less for my truly unlimited data plan(grandfathered) which is less than 10 dollars a month.
    Smart people kept their unlimited data plans from aeons past before carriers started bending users over in the "age of the iphone".
    Sad to say from here on out you will be paying more for less. I would suggest if you still have an unlimited plan to not give it up.
    Or you will be bent over and tiered a new one.

    • SleepinInCA

      Amen brother. They can have it when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.

  • John J

    I'm grandfathered into ATT's unlimited, and I use around 1gb a month. My fiancee has an iPhone, and is also grandfathered in, but she only uses around 400 a month.

    The reason I get feisty about data plans, is because this is our usage -now-. Over the last year or two, my data usage has grown almost exponentially. Next year, 2 years from now, as our phones become more powerful, able to do more things on-the-go, our data usage is going to skyrocket; it's not going down, it's not slowing down. We're getting locked into data caps right as our data usage is kicking it into high gear.

    Internet / data usage is starting to go backwards, back to the metering days of old. It's a pure losing situation for consumers, if you just think about what your data usage is going to be in the future. We need to fight the caps now, while there's still a glimmer of hope.

  • Topgun

    Ala there is Sprint. Sprint has NO caps. You pay the 10$ premium and that takes away the 2gig cap on 3g. Caps and overages are just pocked by carriers. What most people understand is how cheap bandwidth really has come to major carriers esp Verizon and att. They own or control the major backbone networks in the US and international lines to. It costs them pennies compared to 10 years ago. And those that use the argument they use more so it hurts me so they should pay more....are you retarded? Its not hurting you. If you dont use the bandwidth in the first place then why would it affect you? This is like taxing a smoker more to pay for a non smokers tax break on their car. It makes no sense. All this is, is a way to pad the bottom line for the shareholders at the expense of their customers. If anyone SHOULD have caps its Sprint because I bet they pay more than VzW and ATT for total bandwidth.

  • The engineer

    I installed trafik watcher a week ago and I'm already up at 1.6GB. Luckily I got a full-rate & unlimited dataplan (and it's only 10€ a month) :)

  • Christopher

    Doesn't the first graph represent 582MB per *quarter*, not per *month*?

    I would find it hard to believe that on *average* Android users use that much every single month.

  • that one guy

    well, according to this, which I find hard to believe, I guess i'm in the top 0.5% then, I typically go through 3-5 gigs a month, and no, I dont tether, wonder what I'll end up at when 4G LTE hits where I live...

  • Mercuriari

    I can't watch Netflix, DL a movie, or watch more than a few minutes of CNN or I will go over my limit. I use mobile data for GPS map, E-Mail and Internet info lookups ONLY! I'd use 50 GB a month if I could.

    I have no peace worrying about an overage. I went over this month and can't find how. I had unlimited and tethering on AT&T. I dropped tethering when they made it expensive and lost my grandfathering for unlimited data. Went to 4GB/mo. then 2GB and know I've got a whopping 200MB!

    And I went paoperless billing and now I can't see how my usage suddenly changed so much that I went over because I can't get a detail of past usage - the history reports no longer have a detail option!

    My 40 year loyalty is soon to be history - as soon as I can decide where I can get the full service I want without setting myself up to be screwed some more!

    • maa89

      If you have an Android phone, go to Settings, then Data Usage. You should be able to monitor your total data usage and the usage per app.