Smartphones trump tablets


Smartphone users now consistently consume more mobile data than tablet users, led by iPhone 5 users

Despite a surge in the market for tablets, smartphone users have overtaken tablet users in their thirst for mobile data for the first time, according to a new study.

As overall mobile data consumption continues to rocket, driven by new devices and richer content, the study from Arieso, provider of location-aware solutions for mobile operators, suggests that extreme users are beginning to move to new LTE networks, but there is no let up on existing networks.

For the first time, smartphone users are consistently consuming more mobile data than tablet users. Out of the top ten most voracious devices (excluding dongles) six were smartphones, three tablets and one a phablet. Tablet users placed fourth, eighth, and ninth.

From the 125 devices studied, users of iPhone 5 proved to be the most voracious data consumers. But for the first time in three years, this dominance is being challenged. Users of the iPhone 5 demand four times as much data as iPhone 3G users and 50% more than iPhone 4S users (the most demanding in the 2012 study).

However, Samsung Galaxy S III users generate (upload rather than download) nearly four times the amount of data than iPhone 3G users, beating iPhone 5 users into third place on uplink data usage behind the Samsung Galaxy Note II. In the rapidly growing tablet market, Samsung Tab 2 10.1 users have asserted their dominance, demanding 20% more data than iPad users.

'This is pretty counterintuitive, but it seems the capabilities of the newest smartphones, not tablets, are unleashing even greater user demand,' said study author and Arieso CTO, Dr. Michael Flanagan. 'Once you move away from raw consumption statistics, the most remarkable finding is the way in which people use smartphones and tablets. Regardless of device type and operating system, there is very little variation in the usage 'signature' between smartphone users and between tablet users. From this we discover that voice-capable phablets, like the Samsung Galaxy Note II, are currently being used like smartphones, not tablets. If you can use it to make a phone call, the phablet won't be much like a tablet at all.'

LTE introduces much-needed bandwidth and relieves pressure on UMTS networks. However, operators cannot relax their focus on network planning, optimisation and performance, LTE holds a sting in its tail warned Arieso.

'For three years now we've seen how greater technical capabilities lead to greater data consumption by consumers. From our own experience helping operators around the world prepare their networks for evolving user demands, we hypothesise that LTE alone won't solve the data problem, it will exacerbate it,' stated Flanagan.

Arieso stated that to effectively meet the needs and expectations of LTE customers and extreme users, a different approach to network design is required. Small cells will be important, but the placing and management of these assets must be undertaken with even greater surgical precision.

'Way back in history (relatively speaking) the NGMN defined a number of use cases for 'Self-Organising Networks'. The very first was for the placement of base stations. With the right location intelligence pervading the network – identifying where, for example, extreme LTE users congregate – operators will immediately know where to place small cell assets,' said Flanagan. 'SON for small cells will also help operators attack some of the other challenges with hetnets including interference management, inter-radio access technology handover and coverage and capacity optimization.'

The study data originates from a tier one European operator but is relevant to operators around the world because relative consumption between device users remains constant between geographies. The regional differences, therefore, relate to the operating conditions in each market.

'Wherever they are in the world, operators have to deal with similar challenges created by extreme data use,' concluded Flanagan. 'Every year, the situation gets tougher and more complicated. But it is worth remembering two salient points. One, that these challenges only result from our industry's incredible success in creating devices, services and networks that billions of people want to use every hour of every day. Two, that these puzzles are surmountable through careful attention to the needs of subscribers where they demand services from the network.'


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