Spark Blog

Throttling Mobile Broadband: Fast Data or Fast Profits?

Mar 14, 2012

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

Network operators argue that data throttling is an effective way to manage network efficiency and keep “data hogs” in check. Critics say it’s nothing but a workaround for operators to convert unlimited data plan users into more expensive tiered data plans. Two recent studies lend fuel to both camps:

A study by Validas, a proponent for wireless service customers, looked at 55,000 AT&T and Verizon cell phone bills from 2011. Focusing on the top 5% of data users, the firm found that data usage between unlimited and tiered plan users for AT&T was 3.97 and 3.19 GB per month, respectively; and for Verizon it was 3.57 and 3.59 GB.

According to Validas, “There is virtually no difference in data consumption between those on unlimited and those on tiered plans — and yet the unlimited consumers are the ones at risk of getting their service turned off. So it’s curious that anyone would think the throttling here represents a serious effort at alleviating network bandwidth issues. After all, Sprint gets by fine maintaining non-throttled unlimited data to its customers.”

Conversely, Cisco's Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast asserts that throttling does have an effect on customers’ consumption of data. Cisco’s case study was based on the data use of 22,000 devices associated with two Tier 1 Global service providers from mature mobile markets. The study’s time frame was 22 months. It found that due to tiered pricing, the megabytes per month consumed by an average user from the top 1% of mobile data users have been steadily decreasing compared to overall usage.

"At the beginning of the two-year study, 52% of the traffic was generated by the top 1%. At the end of the 22-month time frame, the top 1% generated 24% of the overall traffic per month," said Cisco’s study.

Granted, the studies differed in their execution: Cisco’s study was a global study while Validas’ focused on U.S. operators; Cisco’s sample was less than half the number of Validas’, and Cisco’s study took place nearly twice a long as Validas’. However, each served up a unique perspective about mobile data usage. It’s a shame that only the Cisco study mentioned Wi-Fi offload and femtocells as solutions to accommodate more data. There are actually a number of solutions either being discussed or commercially available. If anything, both studies agree on one thing: we just can’t seem to get enough mobile data.

(H/T to Fierce Broadband Wireless )


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