Nielsen: Mobile Data Growth Spurt Not Slowing Down

Wireless Tower

Mobile data usage continues to explode, as more and more people make the leap from regular mobile phones to smartphones like the iPhone and Android phones. That probably won’t surprise anybody, but Nielsen’s latest research indicates that at least that data isn’t getting more expensive.

U.S. smartphone owners almost doubled their data consumption over the past year, according to Nielsen. On a monthly basis average data use went from 230MB in first quarter of 2010 to 435MB in this year’s first quarter. Among the so-called power users at the top of the consumption graph, data use accelerated even more quickly: the top 10 percent of smartphone users are gobbling up 109 percent more data than a year ago, and the top 1 percent used 155 percent more data: 4.6GB worth of data.

However, data pricing has mostly held the line over that time, as the effective cost per MB fell from 14 cents a year ago to 8 cents this year. So now the question is how long wireless carriers are willing to let that trend continue, because the cost of building and maintaining those networks is not getting any cheaper. Some have moved toward data caps, but with usage stats like these, AT&T’s 4GB cap on the iPhone isn’t going to be hit by the vast majority of U.S. users just yet.

And not to pile on too much, but one other graph from Nielsen’s survey neatly illustrates why Research in Motion (NSDQ: RIMM) is in so much trouble. Over the last year, Windows Mobile users have consumed more data than BlackBerry users. To repeat: Windows Mobile, a dying operating system that has all but disappeared from the mobile scene, is used more often for wireless data than the BlackBerry, which has been around forever, has an application developer base, and the support of wireless carriers.

The graph:

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