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Occupy smartphone: Top 10% of mobile users occupy 90% of bandwidth

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A recent study finds that the top 10% of mobile users are using up a whopping 90% of wireless bandwidth.

Dreamy phone call

Almost half of smartphone owners turn on their mobile gadget to check the web before getting out of bed in the morning, according to the mobile equipment company Ericsson. Such super users may be members of an elite group: the top 10 percent of  mobile users are using up 90 percent of wireless bandwidth.

This last stat came out of a study by the British consulting firm Arieso that analyzed 1.1 million users of a European mobile company during a 24-hour period in November 2011.

The gap between these super users and the rest of us is widening. In 2009 the super users generated 40 percent of the traffic and in 2011 they generated 70 percent of the traffic.

Arieso did not provide a detailed profile of a super user but believes they are most likely business travelers and individuals with unlimited mobile data packages. A spokesperson told the New York Times that the mobile user profile, “doesn’t break down along socioeconomic lines.” (Sorry, no Occupy Wall Street fodder here folks.)

Here are some highlights from that study as well as research by Ericsson, the leader in mobile network equipment:

  • 64 percent of the extreme consumers use a laptop, roughly 33 percent use a smartphone and only 3 percent use an iPad. (Although I believe that last stat will see a rocket rise in the coming year, since nearly one-quarter of online users in the U.S. will use a tablet in 2012, according to the Online Publishers Association.)
  • According to Ericsson, the super users watch videos 40 percent of the time, and spend rest of their time surfing, downloading new software, checking e-mail and social networking
  • Smartphones are on the increase. At least in Sweden and Finland, where they make up half of all mobile phones (currently, according to Ericsson, only 13.2 percent of the 6.1 billion cell phones around the world are smartphones.)
  • Finland users consume a 1-gigabyte average of content per month which is apparently 10 times what the average European consumes
  • Arieso found owners of the iPhone 4S downloaded 276 percent more data than those with the older iPhone 3G—they suspect this is due to the new voice-operated system, Siri, as well as cloud computing operations
  • From the Arieso study the top phones used were two handsets operated on the Android platform—both uploaded more than double the amount of content than the iPhone 3G

Operators need to brace themselves for an accelerated rise in mobile use with the increase in tablets, as costs plummet (a $35 tablet is now being developed in India.)  The Online Publishing Association estimates about one-quarter of U.S. online users (61 million) will be using tablets by early 2012, and global sales will hit 195 million units by 2015, eclipsing those of laptops. And by 2016 Ericsson claims that global mobile data use will have increased ten-fold. Many are already feeling the pinch as one European company that remained anonymous in the NYT article had to install 250 miniature base station to take on the consumption of the super users. And other companies are considering introducing volume limits on users.

[via The New York Times]

[Photo Ed Yourdon]

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Christie Nicholson

Contributing Writer

Christie Nicholson produces and hosts Scientific American's podcasts 60-Second Mind and 60-Second Science and is an on-air contributor for Slate, Babelgum, Scientific American, Discovery Channel and Science Channel. She has spoken at MIT/Stanford VLAB, SXSW Interactive, the National Science Foundation, the National Research Council, the Space Studies Board and Brookhaven National Laboratory. She holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Dalhousie University in Canada. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure