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Most Mobile Data Consumed By Six Percent Of Users

A significant percentage of U.S. smartphone users aren't using data at all, while the top 6% of users are gobbling up half of all data consumed, according to Nielsen. Released this week, a study of 60,000 mobile phone bills found a huge disparity between heavy data users and the many smartphone owners who use their handsets almost exclusively just for voice calls and texting.

"The top 6 percent of smartphone users are consuming half of all data," said Roger Entner, senior VP of research and insights in Nielsen's telecom practice. "More than a third of smartphone users have not yet signed up for a data plan." Entner said AT&T's recent introduction of metered data plans prompted Nielsen to examine the issue of data consumption. Based on the results of the Nielsen study, Entner concluded that "the vast majority" of AT&T customers would be better off and pay less with AT&T's pricing schemes, rather than using flat-rate plans in which they could be paying for service they don't use.

The study found that average data consumption jumped some 230 percent from about 90 MB a month in the first quarter of 2009 to 290 MB a month in the first quarter of 2010. More surprising is the finding that the percentage of smartphone owners using less than 1 MB a month actually decreased during the period. "That," said Entner, "means about 20 million current smartphone users are hardly using data." Even so, the growth of smartphones -- still in its infancy -- is causing carriers' networks to fill up with data, which has caused FCC chairman Julius Genachowski to warn of a coming "spectrum crisis."

Entner said the Nielsen Customer Value Metrics study shows that carriers have to better educate consumers about the use and value of smartphones so the "right device (is married) to the right customer. Operators have to do a much better job in conveying the value and utility of these powerful devices." The challenge becomes more difficult, he indicated, as the cell phone industry moves to a post-voice-centric universe. "Operators with the right cost structure will still be able to operate efficiently, effectively, and profitably in this increasingly challenging voice segment, but most operators are condemned to sink or swim in the new data-centric world," Entner added.

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