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Smart-phone data nibblers outnumber data hogs

Consumer Reports News: July 28, 2011 03:07 PM

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Although the average amount of data consumed each month by smart-phone owners appears to be on the rise, many data users eat up far fewer megabytes than you might expect, according to the latest statistics culled for Consumer Reports from 23,000 consumer cell-phone bills.

Average smart-phone data use in the February, 2010 to February, 2011 bill sample ranged from 274MB to 449MB per month, depending on carrier, as shown in the chart below. But the median smart phone data user (midpoint on the range) consumed dramatically less—only 48MB at T-Mobile to 158MB at Verizon Wireless.

Average smart phone
Median smart phone
(Data provided by Validas, a company that advises consumers and businesses which cellular plans meet their needs, based on their actual voice, messaging, and data usage, as shown on their cell bills uploaded at This analysis excluded feature-phone owners and consumers who don’t use any data services at all; data usage at Sprint is not available, because there was an insufficient number of smart phones in that carrier’s bill sample.)

The sizable difference between the average and median results from the relatively small percentage of users who gobble up huge amounts of data, which pulls up the average.

These new results confirm what we've previously reported: that Verizon's move to metered data pricing and its minimum smart-phone-data charge of $30 for 2GB per month won't save any new customers a dime, because most smart-phone owners don't use anywhere near 2GB. Verizon has said customers who signed on to data service before the metered plans can stay with the company's old $30-a-month unlimited plan. But for most users, whether they have an unlimited plan or one that has a 2GB limit is moot, since their typical monthly data use is well below that data limit.

So new T-Mobile smart phone owners who use only the median amount of data will find the best price at that carrier, just $10 for 200MB. The median AT&T smart-phone data user would pay more, $15 for 200MB.

But the median Verizon smart phone customer gets the worst deal. He pays top dollar, $30 for 2GB, and at the end of a typical month leaves unused some 90 percent, or 1.8GB, of the data he paid for.

Jeff Blyskal

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