Americans Using Incredible Volume Of Mobile Data, Don’t Look To Be Slowing Down Any Time Soon

Image courtesy of Prime Number

When businesses, consumer advocates, and government reports all say that the use of mobile data is skyrocketing, they aren’t kidding. An annual survey of the wireless industry shows that we are using more mobile everything, all the time, everywhere — and that the trend shows no signs of slowing down.

The CTIA — the big trade and lobbying group representing all the mobile companies — conducts an annual survey looking at data use and wireless penetration in the U.S. The 2015 report is now out, and it’s a doozy.

For starters, “wireless penetration” — the number of active mobile devices as compared to the U.S. population — is at nearly 116%. That means, yes, there are about 1.15 wireless devices per person in use. And in fact that meshes with their tally of active subscriptions, which comes in at about 378 million. (The U.S. population is currently estimated at roughly 323 million.)

All those phones and tablets suck up a lot of data. We’re collectively using 9.65 trillion MB per year of mobile data (or 9.65 billion GB, which is the unit most of us are used to seeing on our bills). Divide that by the population again and we’re looking at a little shy of 30 GB per person per year, ballpark.

Here’s where it starts to get nuts, though: the survey also compares against historical data, going back to 2005. That means we’ve got ten years’ worth of change on the record, and it is rapid.

Of course, in 2005 they actually didn’t have mobile data to track, in any meaningful way; the first iPhone, which took the idea of robust wireless activity mainstream, didn’t even launch until 2007. Five years ago, in 2010, we were collectively using about 388 billion MB of data per year — about a quarter of what we use now.

Likewise, in the 2005 pre-smartphone era, CTIA considered 8.4% of households to be wireless-only (i.e. without a landline). That figure is now at 48.3% — just shy of half of all U.S. households.

That meshes with other studies, like data from Pew, which confirm that younger consumers, lower-income consumers, and/or consumers of color are relying on wireless connections almost exclusively.

The stunning rate of change applies across the board: monthly voice minutes used has nearly doubled in ten years, from 124.6 billion in 2005 to 240.1 billion in 2015. Text messaging, on the other hand, has continued to decrease year-over-year: 187.7 billion texts were sent per month in 2010, but only 156.7 billion per month in 2015. That change probably reflects the rapid switch to platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, which each have roughly a billion users worldwide, for short real-time communication.

Of course, the CTIA, being a trade group, also has to tout how awesome and lucrative and really great for innovation and investment and all those patriotic i-words they are, so they’re also sure to highlight that annual wireless revenue in 2015 was up to a record $192 billion — a number which of course in no way came from overage charges, add-on fees, or just plain high bills.

Still, even the most casual observer has to observe that mobile is an industry with a heck of a lot of rapid growth going on. Companies like Comcast have been arguing for years that they’re in competition with mobile data, and they’re not entirely wrong. We’re still not quite there yet, mind — wired broadband (i.e. cable or fiber) is still cheaper, faster, and more reliable, in general… but the times, they are a-changin’, and fast.

Annual Wireless Industry Survey [CTIA]