Data for the People
By Eric Lin, Mon Apr 19 22:30:00 GMT 2004

Data use is surging ahead in the US, finally. That's not to say that data use has caught up with other continents, but at least over 50% of users actually use the data aspects of their handsets.

Results of In-Stat/MDR's new survey show 54% of wireless subscribers in America are now using data services, including SMS and MMS. As to be expected, the most users responded to using SMS, but other browser-related data services fared well, ringtone and game downloads high among them.

What In-Stat found critical was that there is no significant demographic difference between data users and voice-only users. Since usage is no longer predictable by income or other factors, the report declares it has officially reached the mainstream. The report even goes on to say that ethnic minorities actually report higher than average data consumption. If the data show no evidence of the "digital divide," cellular data could actually the great equalizer that the internet was supposed to be.

Data users are also power users, or at least heavier users than their voice-only counterparts. They use 42% more voice minutes than voice-only subscribers and spend 64% more on their handsets. They're willing to invest more money in their mobile lifestyle. We've seen other data from individual carriers backing up this trend as well. One of the challenges then is how to encourage subscribers to become data users.

The survey data may also reveal at least a partial answer shows that highest concentration of data consumption is on T-Mobile and Nextel, both of which have offered low-priced, unlimited data plans the longest. Sprint added affordable data plans when they launched their PCS Vision services later last year, but that hasn't effected uptake among subscribers yet. Cingular has just followed suit, launching two new plans that combine SMS, MMS and GPRS into one package, much like Sprint -- one of which includes unlimited GPRS and more messages than most users could send for USD 20 per month.