While an increasing number of mobile operators deploy 4G LTE, the impact to user behavior and total data usage have been difficult to measure and thus a matter of considerable debate. The network capabilities of 4G combined with larger screen and more capable smartphones, have delivered higher speed mobile broadband, richer applications, and a more compelling user experience. As a result, 4G operators are seeing an increase in the amount of cellular data being consumed by subscribers with 4G-enabled devices. However, the Wi-Fi usage in the 4G era has been a mystery until now, since the Wi-Fi data doesn’t go over the operator network and cannot be measured unless the operator has a Wi-Fi analytics client deployed on the smartphone.
At Devicescape, we recently compared wireless data usage on 4G smartphones to usage on 3G handsets across a number of 4G deployments globally. The data was compiled from tens of millions of registered Android devices, which have either been deployed by mobile operators with Devicescape’s Curator Client pre-loaded, or been installed with the DataSaver App by users. The six-month study, which measured actual data consumption on the network, ran from March to August 2013. The study consisted of 80% North American mobile users and 20% international users. In all, it included 15 4G LTE networks globally.
A key trend that emerged from the research was that Wi-Fi and cellular data usage doubled as comparing 4G users with 3G users including those that upgraded during the study. On average, 4G smartphone users consume 2.1 times more mobile data per month and 2.0 times as much Wi-Fi than their 3G counterparts. This is due to the fact that 4G customers use their mobile device about 40-50% more than 3G users, consume richer content, and enjoy a better user experience. This study result was recently reported by the Wall Street Journal.
The increase in mobile data was expected because of the higher speeds and more capable devices that 4G offers compared to 3G systems. The increase in Wi-Fi usage is best explained by examining the habits of smartphone users as they upgrade from 3G to 4G. As subscribers receive better and more consistent performance, they become more reliant on their handset, and that changes their behavior. Subscribers are then more likely to consume richer services, such as video and music streaming, and the data usage increase spills over into other times of the day including when users are connected to Wi-Fi. Users get accustomed to richer applications and access these over both 4G and Wi-Fi, depending on their location and connection. The result is a doubling in total wireless usage.
Here at Devicescape, we enable mobile operators to elevate the “always best connected” experience and magnify their capacity-reach, by leveraging the tens of millions of high-quality hotspots already established by venue owners and open for public use. Our Curator Service grants carriers access to Devicescape’s Curated Virtual Network (CVN) of over 16 million global public Wi-Fi hotspots that are continuously curated for quality from more than 250 million hotspots worldwide, making it the world’s largest network of quality-controlled Wi-Fi. Devicescape recognises curated amenity Wi-Fi as a core strategy that helps carriers balance cost and network capacity, as well as delivering an optimal customer experience through seamless access and automatic connection.
As subscribers continue to demand faster, more reliable data connections and continue to consume and use richer applications and services, operators will have to ensure customers receive the best possible connection wherever they are. It is clear that 4G smartphone users do not prefer 4G over Wi-Fi or vice versa. Instead they demand a service that enables them to be connected to the best possible network for their data consumption needs.