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Operators face growing pressure for more data capacity, but consumer groups warn that users are being oversold data allowances

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A report from Juniper Research has shown that mobile network operators are to face significant additional pressure over the next five years – not only from smartphone and tablet usage, but from data traffic being onloaded to the network from netbooks, laptops, game consoles and eReaders. Juniper Research estimates that 24% of all traffic generated from these devices will be onloaded to the cellular network by 2016.

This means that the annual data traffic onloaded from these devices onto the mobile network will reach over 7,500 PB (Petabytes) by 2016, which equates to a voluminous 3 trillion music track downloads.

The Data Offload & Onload report found that the migration of data traffic from fixed to mobile is primarily due to the increased performance of mobile broadband services when compared to fixed broadband services in many regions of the world, and the low penetration of fixed broadband penetration in emerging markets. The majority of the data onloaded onto the cellular network will be concentrated in regions where 3G/4G network are ubiquitous.

According to report author Nitin Bhas, “Consumers are also tethering their mobile devices with laptops and netbooks for data connectivity, using unlimited-bundled data plans providing them with the advantage of requiring no modem, new configurations or any other gadgets. With the introduction of 4G speeds, users are expected to increasingly take advantage of tethering in the future”.

The report highlights that even though 4G is a very promising opportunity from a capacity and performance standpoint, it is still constrained as a resource and comparatively expensive. Operators will still need offloading technologies such as WiFi & small cells to augment 4G networks.

But a new report published by, the Ofcom-accredited mobile price comparison site, has found that most smartphone users are on a data tariff far too large for their needs. The report found that consumers’ fear of ‘bill shock’ – the excessive charges incurred when people go over their data limits – is leading them to waste hundreds of megabytes each month with excessive allowances. The findings are based on an anonymised analysis of 215,507 mobile phone bills from UK customers who used the free bill analysis service at

According to the report, while half (49%) of all smartphone owners are using less than 100MB per month, 88% of smartphone users opt for a much larger monthly data allowance of at least 500MB. The notion of bill shock has led to a fear of data charges, as consumers opt for greater allowances than they need, rather than face unexpectedly high bills. However, with just 8% of smartphone users recently experiencing data charges, this fear is usually unfounded.

While smartphone data usage is undoubtedly on the rise as the report shows, doubling in the past 18 months from 71MB to an average of 154MB per month, this is still a much lower volume than the vast majority of consumers perceive they need. In the wake of a data ‘capacity crunch,’ this report identifies that most consumer data allowances are actually going to waste.

The report identified three categories of data user:

• 49% of smartphone users are dipping their toes in the waters of mobile data with monthly usage of less than 100MB

• 24% of users may have had a smartphone for a while but usage levels of 100-250MB per month remain moderate

• 27% of users are ‘power users’ who wouldn’t want to be without their smartphone, consuming more than 250MB per month

Dr Stelios Koundouros, founder of states: “Virtually all smartphone users have one thing in common: they’re all paying more for mobile data than they should. It is notoriously difficult for people to estimate their real data usage, and smartphone users who don’t know how much data they are using cannot make an informed decision on which tariff is right for them. We urge people to take a good look at their consumption and make sure that they are not paying over the odds for their data.”

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