Mobile data use skyrockets

Wireless data delivery in 2015 was more than twice 2014’s figures, a CTIA study has found

Mobile data use skyrockets
Credit: Thinkstock

More evidence of the growing surge in wireless data reliance was released this week with CTIA’s announcement of its 2015 annual survey results.

Americans used well over double (137 percent) the amount of data in 2015 than they used in 2014, the wireless industry trade body found. And 2015’s 9.6 trillion megabyte (MB) delivery was three times the throughput sent in 2013. In that year, we used only a measly 2.2 trillion MB.

CTIA, formerly known as the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, says  2015’s 9.6 trillion MB is the equivalent of streaming 59,219 videos every minute. What’s interesting is that despite that 137 percent gain in data last year, subscriber numbers rose only 6 percent over the same period. And the total number of smartphones in use, in the country, was up only about a tenth at 9 percent.

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So, one can assume it is data use that’s driving the traffic rather than simply more users creating growth. The number of users and smartphones is plateauing.

“Seventy percent of the population now owns a smartphone,” CTIA says in its press release about the survey results (PDF).

Growth of tablets

CTIA put the total number of U.S. smartphones at 228 million in 2015. And data-absorbing tablets saw more significant growth compared to smartphones in 2015. CTIA says, “There were more than 41 million tablets on wireless networks” that year. That’s up 16 percent over 2014.

Surprisingly, what with the perceived increase in texting apps usage and apparent demise of talking on phones, CTIA says Americans conversed over 2.8 trillion minutes in 2015. That’s up 17 percent over 2014.

Traditional SMS and MMS texting, however, appears—more realistically—to be slowing. There was only a 1.7 percent gain in those combined cash-cow products.

Americans still sent over 4 million texts and MMS messages a minute in 2015.

SMS texting, as an individual service and separated out from the combined SMS and MMS category, declined. Americans sent 1,889 trillion SMS texts in 2015 compared to 1,921 in 2014. SMS numbers have declined most years since the high point in 2011 when 2,304 trillion were sent.

One reason for the slowdown is the prevalence of messaging apps, which appear to be here to stay.

While the Wall Street Journal (paywall) says telcos are trying to catch up globally with the apps, like WhatsApp, “others aren’t trying or have given up.”

Providing the pipes

Those quitters will concentrate on providing the pipes: in other words, telco services such as data rather than the texts themselves.

This is similar to how cable companies may be approaching TV-service cord-cutting—give up the ghost, the programming, and simply provide the pipe via their ISP services. Airlines, too, may ultimately retire expensive seat-back video hardware in favor of data for passengers’ own devices.

In the case of cable TV, being an ISP alone may not be enough, though. I recently wrote about how ISPs have been seeing mobile network operators impinging on traditional fixed-line internet delivery.

In that article, I wrote about how 2015 Commerce Department figures showed a huge drop in desktop PC users, and extraordinarily, it revealed how more than half of households (60 percent) who use the internet at home use "mobile internet service" while in the home.

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