Further evidence that mobile networks are too expensive and that the so-called “spectrum crisis” may prove to be a load of old tosh. Guy Daniels reports.
Global information and insights firm Nielsen has released new data from its panel of UK-based Android smartphone users, showing that wi-fi continues to be the data network of choice for consuming mobile internet content. It found that 78 per cent of Android smartphone internet content is consumed using wi-fi rather than 3G, rising to 90 per cent during the hour before midnight.
The fact that we prefer wi-fi is no surprise – there can’t be any smartphone user out there who hasn’t been scared off using 3G networks in case they exceed the pitifully low bandwidth caps and get hit with ridiculously high penalty charges. What might be surprising though is that data offloading varies considerably throughout the day.
Nielsen found that wi-fi offloading increases each hour after 5pm, building to a peak between 11pm and midnight, when 90 per cent of data transferred is via wi-fi. It falls back steadily to a low of about 67 per cent around 1pm to 2pm.
From 1pm, offloading trends mirror total data usage rather well – data bounces along around the 4 to 4.5MB level per person until about 5.30pm and the end of the working day. As data use climbs to a peak of about 6.5MB at late evening, so too does the percentage of data offloading.
3G data transfer actually tends to peak just before the working day starts, again at lunchtime, and finally during the early evening commute – when users cannot rely so much on a wi-fi connection.
So office workers take advantage of wi-fi when they can (at home or work), switching to the mobile networks when they are forced to do so. As anyone who has worked in London can testify, public wi-fi is woefully slow and difficult to connect to, and so isn’t worth the bother.
Nielsen also found that 3G data alone suggests that between 6pm and midnight, mobile data usage decreases by more than 55 per cent, but factoring in wi-fi shows that it actually increases by almost 30 per cent, as David Gosen, Nielsen European managing director for digital, explains:
“Wi-Fi is on average three-and-a-half times more dominant than 3G when it comes to delivering mobile internet data services. It peaks around midnight as users gravitate towards social networks, driven by their desire to stay connected through all waking hours.”
Nielsen’s Smartphone Analytics electronically measures smartphone usage at device level. An average of 1,500 monthly adult users who have opted to install a meter on their Android smartphone, which focuses on traffic, application usage, web usage, telephony and hardware performance.
Which brings us round to the spectrum crisis that is much-discussed by the mobile operators. Yes, it’s getting more coverage and is of more interest in the US than the UK, but the same issues apply. Do the operators need more spectrum? Should governments bend over backwards to re-allocate spectrum before the networks collapse under the weight of the ever-increasing network traffic? Or are we starting to see a slow down in data usage?
On present evidence from Europe and the US, cellular data growth is slowing. Whether it’s the start of a trend or is more to do with the current economic recession that is hitting the spending power of consumers remains to be seen. But one thing is for certain – Joe Public is no mug. He’s not going to pay over the odds for a service that he can get cheaper elsewhere. The sooner mobile operators realise this, and tailor their tariffs and services accordingly, the better. Wi-fi offloading and smart usage is here to stay – unless operators dramatically slash the costs of their data services, and I can’t see that happening anytime soon.
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