Ina Fried

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Smartphone Users Continue to Gobble Data At a Staggering Rate

While the growth in the number of smartphones is impressive, what is even more jaw-dropping is the rate at which those with the devices are gobbling up more data.

The amount of data used by the average smartphone owner has grown to 435 megabytes, up 89 percent from the 230 megabytes per month the typical smartphone owner was consuming a year ago, according to new numbers from Nielsen. And, of course, the number of such phones continues to grow quite quickly as well.

It’s a powerful combination that has carriers in the U.S. and elsewhere scrambling to both add additional capacity and to come up with pricing models that ensure they can make money and keep the growth in check.

Most carriers have been moving away from truly unlimited data plans, though Sprint continues to offer largely unlimited data. Verizon offers only tiered pricing on its fastest network and is in the process of shifting to tiered data for all devices. T-Mobile, meanwhile, doesn’t charge data overages, but does start throttling speeds after users hit their monthly usage tier.

Nonetheless, the cost per megabyte of data has continued to fall, with U.S. consumers paying, on average, 8 cents per megabyte in the first quarter of this year, as compared to 14 cents for the same amount of data a year ago.

Also of interest is just how much more data heavy users consume, compared with the typical user. In the first quarter of this year, the median usage was 160 megabytes, while those in the 90th percentile of users were gobbling up just under a gigabyte of data per month. Those in the 97th percentile were using more than 2GB a month, while those at the highest end were transmitting more than 4.5GB of data per month.

Of note, while Android and iPhone owners were consuming about the same amount of data a year ago — at around 312 megabytes — Android users now consume significantly more data, on average, than their iPhone-touting counterparts. The average Android phone owner is using 582 megabytes a month, compared with 492 megabytes for the average iPhone owner.

“Growth in smartphone data usage is clearly being driven by app-friendly operating systems like Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android,” Nielsen said in its report.

BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7 owners consume far less data, though Windows Phone 7 is still fairly new and the amount of data used per device has been growing in recent months as more apps have become available.

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First the NSA came for, well, jeez pretty much everybody’s data at this point, and I said nothing because wait how does this joke work

— Parker Higgins via Twitter