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Nielsen: 25 Pct of U.S. Smartphone Owners Use No Data

A new report from market analysis firm Nielsen finds that while smartphones may be getting more and more features and capabilities, a significant number of their users don’t tap into those features. In a new report that analyzed phone bills from some 60,000 U.S. mobile phone users, Nielsen finds that roughly one quarter of smartphone owners don’t use data service at all, instead sticking with plain-old voice and SMS service. Further, a full third of U.S. smartphone owners don’t’ even subscribe to a data plan.

Nielsen attributes the number of smartphone owners who don’t have a data plan to users who have been grandfathered in under phone service plans that do not have a data component. And before you go thinking that a smartphone without a data plan is completely pointless, it’s worth noting that the vast majority of smartphones are perfectly capable Internet devices without a data plan—so long as there’s Wi-Fi available.

Overall, Nielsen found that the average U.S. smartphone user consumed some 298 MB of data per month during the first quarter of 2010, up substantially from an average of 90 MB of month during the full year of 2009—that’s about a 230 percent increase. At the high end of the usage spectrum, Nielsen found that the top six percent of smartphone users were responsible for consuming about half the mobile data in use in the United States.

Nielsen’s analysis seems to support that idea that tiered data plans—such as that recently rolled out by AT&T—aren’t particularly burdensome to most consumers, who—even at the elevated levels shown in the first quarter of 2010—are consuming on average an eighth of the mobile data allotted to them under a 2GB per month plan. However, the surprising number of people consuming less than 1 MB of data per month—or who have no data service at all on their smartphones—represent a significant missed opportunity for mobile operators. Plainly these folks want smartphones, but aren’t willing to pay providers’ asking price for mobile data service.