Smartphones now consume more data than tablet computers

16 Jan 2013

Smartphones have overtaken tablet computers in their thirst for mobile data for the first time. According to the latest research from Arieso, 40pc of data is consumed by 1pc of users, but the new 4G LTE networks are already starting to feel the strain.

Out of the top 10 most voracious devices (excluding dongles), six were smartphones, three tablets and one a ‘phablet’. Tablet users placed fourth, eighth and ninth in the Arieso research.

“It seems the capabilities of the newest smartphones – not tablets – are unleashing even greater user demand,” the report’s author Dr Michael Flanagan explained.

“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.”

iPhone 5 users are the hungriest data consumers

From the 125 devices studied by Arieso, 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 50pc 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) 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 20pc more data than iPad users.

Dongles dash for LTE

Last year, the study revealed that 1pc of users consume 50pc of the downlink data on 3G/UMTS networks. This year, the hungriest 1pc consume 40pc (the hungriest 0.1pc consume almost 20pc, the hungriest 10pc consume 80pc 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 planners: beware of the sting in LTE’s tail

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 optimisation.”

Smartphone era image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years