The Trouble With iPhones

The iPhone has not only changed the way people consume data on their mobile phones — thanks to its touchscreen, and the myriad of apps that make grabbing such info from the web on a small device easy — it’s changed assumptions as to which devices consume the most data on mobile networks. Bytemobile, a company that provides equipment for carriers to help deliver video and data to mobile devices using less bandwidth, issued a report today that shows the difference in data consumption by device among carriers that have the iPhone and carriers that don’t. It’s pretty significant.

Laptops are still consuming most of the data on carrier networks that don’t have iPhones on them, but once folks get a touch-based smartphone such as the iPhone (and right now it’s the most popular touch-based smartphone out there), the volume of data used by those devices far exceeds that of laptop usage. In other words, when it comes to the network and data consumption, the device does matter. The report also offers some self-serving data about video consumption on mobile devices that may help carriers save on bandwidth consumption. (GigaOM Pro, subscription required).

Cisco expects mobile data traffic to increase 63-fold over the next five years, driven in part by video. But while it’s clear that laptops and touch-based smartphones make video consumption easier, the rise may not be as steep as Cisco predicts. The report found that while the average video online is about 5 minutes in length, about half of the people only watch 60 seconds of a video, which means that sending the entire file to a user would be a waste of bytes and bandwidth. Only 31 percent of people watched all of a video, and 30 percent watched less than 10 percent. The rest of the viewers stopped watching somewhere in the middle. In addition to bandwidth consumption, such findings also could help determine where best to place ads. Although I for one hate getting pre-roll ads on my phone because that data consumed counts against my mobile bandwidth cap. But maybe I’m just super cheap.

Regardless, the problem with the iPhone is that it’s both a gateway drug for consumers, who’ve now tasted the mobile web and want more of it, as well as a canary in the coal mine, as it shows carriers what’s likely to happen as other touch-based smartphones become more popular on their own networks. Curtailing video, as suggested by the report, will solve some issues, but once you give folks a taste of broadband, they’re going to want more.

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