American wireless subscribers used almost 10 trillion megabytes of data last year, more than double what they used in 2014, a new survey published by CTIA on Monday says.
Demand of mobile data has greatly increased even as growth in smartphone sales slowed. CTIA, a top Washington mobile industry trade group, noted that this trend reflects the explosion in the popularity of web browsing and the insatiable demand for checking popular apps like Facebook, uploading pictures to Instagram, watching YouTube videos, and posting Snapchat stories, all of which continue to fuel the growth of data usage. The rise of streaming music and video have also contributed to this trend.
Overall, American consumers used 9.65 trillion megabytes of data last year, more than double the 4.06 trillion megabytes used in 2014, and three times the 3.2 trillion megabytes used in 2013. By month, data usage increased from 338.4 billion megabytes to 804.2 billion. The CTIA annual survey report notes that this staggering figure is the equivalent of streaming 59,219 videos, or roughly 18 million megabytes, every minute.
Fortune summed up some of the other remarkable findings of the survey.
“Including all kinds of phones and other devices like tablets, the industry counted 378 million active devices at year-end, up 6% from 2014. Data traffic growth dramatically outpaced increases in other wireless services, the group reported. Minutes of talking increased 17% to 2.8 trillion minutes and the number of text and MMS messages grew less than 2% to 2.1 trillion.”
Smartphones remain the most popular wireless device, with more than 228 million smartphones in the U.S., up almost 10 percent from 2014. Fully 70 percent of the American population now owns a smartphone. On top of that, the U.S. now has 41 million tablets, up 16 percent from 2014. Americans talked for more than 2.8 trillion minutes on their phones in 2015, or an increase of 17 percent from 2014. Americans sent 2.1 trillion text messages, including those with embedded videos and photos, or more than four million every minute.
The acceleration of the growth of data usage is also significant. From 2013, data consumption in the U.S. grew by about 26 percent, but the following year, it grew by 137 percent. Fortune theorized that part of this trend has to do with Americans disconnecting their internet plans and using their smartphones as their main source of online activity, citing data from the Commerce Department.
“Almost half of all U.S. households rely solely on mobile phones and have cancelled their landlines, the group said. Wireless-only households exceeded 48% at the end of the year, up from just 8% ten years ago.”
But the Washington Post says most of it has to do with the rise of streaming services.
“But we’re also consuming more data-intensive services. YouTube and Netflix account for over half of all North American Internet traffic at peak hours, according to the networking equipment firm Sandvine, and the number keeps creeping up. Throw in streaming audio, such as music and online podcasts, and that figure jumps to 70 percent.”
Interestingly, despite the huge increase in U.S. data consumption, Americans don’t always use all the data they’re paying for. In fact, reviews of wireless bills estimated that 85 percent of consumers paid more for data than they needed and left an average of 1.6 GB per month unused.
To handle the increased usage, U.S. wireless service providers invested $32 billion in 2015 to add 10,000 new cell towers. Carriers have invested more than $177 billion since 2010 to improve their service coverage and capacity. The wireless industry pulled in more than $200 billion last year alone, a sharp increase of 70 percent from a decade ago. There is little reason to believe this number will go down in the future, in a world more and more connected through the internet.
CTIA members represent 97 percent of the mobile industry, including its four largest companies: AT&T, Verizon Communications, T-Mobile, and Sprint.
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