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August 24, 2012

Who Really Needs an 'Unlimited' Data Plan?

By Gary Kim, Contributing Editor

The overwhelming majority of customers on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon (News - Alert) networks studied by NPD Connected Intelligence  don't even use 2 GBytes worth of mobile data per month, which suggests most consumers do not need “unlimited” service plans.

NPD Connected Intelligence tracked users on 1,000 Android (News - Alert) smartphones as part of the study.

T-Mobile USA has users who consume more, though. Some 11 percent of T-Mobile USA customers use more than 3 GBytes per month, compared to 4 percent of AT&T (News - Alert) and Sprint customers who consume more than 3 Gbytes a month. About 3 percent of Verizon customers use more than 3 Gbytes a month.

NPD Connected Intelligence analyst Eddie Hold says Apple iPhone (News - Alert) usage is pretty similar to that of Android users.

And even when customers had unlimited data plans, most didn't take advantage of it, the study suggests.  "In general, Sprint's usage is the same as the other networks and less than T-Mobile (News - Alert) USA," Hold said.

Wi-Fi might now be a major part of the usage pattern, as it is possible users now know how to use offloading techniques to protect their mobile data usage buckets.

On average, smartphones are making eight Wi-Fi connections per day and offloading as much as 35 percent of total data consumption to a Wi-Fi network, while heavy users offload as much as 70 percent, according to Devicescape.

Devicescape surveyed one million smartphone devices as part of its study.

A couple of conclusions might be drawn. At the moment, most users don’t consume all that much data, so the value of an “unlimited” plan is questionable. On the other hand, “unlimited” is a useful marketing platform.

The other potential conclusion is that people might be using more data than is fully captured by their mobile usage in a typical month.

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Edited by Braden Becker
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