Increased data usage and smartphone data plans vs the BlackBerry

Tech evolution
By Michelle Haag on 7 Jul 2011 03:34 pm EDT
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Smartphones have changed the way that people consume data over the past several years. It used to be that if you were waiting for an email, you had to use a computer to check for its arrival. If you wanted to update a personal blog or check out what was going on with your friends on Facebook, it required logging in on the computer. Need the latest sports scores or stock quotes? You guessed it, computer. The world has moved on from a computer being a requirement. Of course, the smartphone hasn't replaced your laptop entirely, but so much of what used to require a computer can now be done completely on a device that fits in your pocket. It's no surprise that a recent Nielsen report showed that the average smartphone user is now consuming 89% more data per month than they were just a year ago.

As a result of this trend, many leading carriers are moving to usage-based data plans for smartphones. What does this mean for you? If you were lucky enough to be grandfathered into an unlimited data plan, it may not mean much (yet). However, if you aren't one of those fortunate ones, or if you switch providers in the future, you may need to pay very close attention to how much data you are consuming on your device to avoid extra charges at the end of the month.

You may be thinking to yourself "I don't need to worry about that. I only use my phone for texting grandma and calling the kids at college." If so, then great! You probably don't have much to worry about. However, most of us are a different story, constantly using our phones for Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, visiting our favorite blogs (*cough*CrackBerry.com*cough*), sending and receiving emails - the list goes on. No matter what platform you choose, smartphone users are consuming more and more data, and there is no sign of that trend stopping.

DataSmart comparison
This is a great time to own a BlackBerry. Beginning with the first devices RIM produced, data compression was part of the design. These days they call this DataSmart technology, and every BlackBerry has it. DataSmart technology, including data compression, works a lot like zipping large files on your computer. When you use data on a BlackBerry smartphone, it's almost as if the data is zipped up before it's sent or received so it's smaller.

When the BlackBerry browser accesses a Web site, it sends a request to a server at the RIM network operations center (NOC). The data server in the NOC retrieves the requested resource either via its own cache or directly from the Web server and returns the requested content to the device. The server also saves bandwidth by compressing the information being passed to the device.

This means whether you are using email, social networking, or browsing the web, your BlackBerry is working with you to keep data usage down.
Smartphone Data Usage
The same Nielsen report referenced above took a look at data usage broken down by what platform consumers are using. The trends for the past year can be seen on the graph above. After analyzing cell phone bill data for 65,000 smartphone users, it became clear that while most other smartphone owners are using more and more data, BlackBerry owners are remaining fairly consistent in their usage. Is that because BlackBerry users don't check their emails, or use social networking, or browse the internet? Of course not. It's because of the more efficient way that data is used on a BlackBerry. And efficient data usage is the key to effortlessly staying within the allotted amount of data on your plan.

Sources: Nielsen, BlackBerry DataSmart, Rysavy Research

Michelle Haag Michelle Haag "@_Miche11e_ and C0001B3B5" 1191 (articles) 1683 (forum posts)

Reader comments

Increased data usage and smartphone data plans vs the BlackBerry

52 Comments

May be the single most valuable reason I will not switch my carrier. We shall see what it looks like at my renewal at the end of this year.

Yep, I have never gone over 50MB a month on my BB, and I am constantly BBMing, sending and receiving email, checking twitter and facebook, using GPS.

So iOS and Android are to blame for tiered data plans? Great. I would also point out that BBOS users don't have as many to choose from or download as many apps. They also don't have as good of apps as those two either (think MLB for streaming games on iOS) The apps are also limited in size due to the small amount of storage on BB's and they can't make apps as "powerful" due to cpu limitations.

the article is about data usage not apps. I am on my BB all the time, i watch movies and listen to music (streamed) and i have never gone over 500 MB a month

The argument that iOS/Android users use more data simply because they can jampack their devices with tons of shiny shiny apps, and apps = data use is flawed. At least where I'm concerned. I've got lots of apps on my work iPad (PlayBook FTW) that are so shiny I have to wear shades, and they don't use a bit of data during their operation.

The important apps/services like IM, email, Twitter, Facebook, foursquare, Slacker Radio, Youtube, etc each have their counterpart on the BBOS/iOS/Android platforms. I use them all, and have always hovered around the 200-250MB range each month.

And you are absolutely right. It's about data usage. As a whole and averaged out over devices by OS.

What app are you streaming movies with on a BB?

And curious, how often are you on WIFI?

the Nielsen report does state there is a correlation between available apps and data usage as apps uses data.

the point of this article is that BlackBerrys use far less data than other smartphones.

We are not sorry your iPhone cannot compress data when you watch MLB tv.

Yes it is and I agree with it, my point is that there's more to why BB's use less data than compression.

I don't own and never will own an iphone. #BB4L

I totally agree. We are talking about different OS's that deliver a totally different experience from BB. The apps that are becoming popular on iOS and Android are far superior and I honestly don't see a BB using those apps. The apps I am talking about are the more data thirsty apps like NetFlix, Google Music, AudioGalaxy, and Hulu+. Even if you were to stream Pandora 8 hours a day for a month you would maybe hit 2gb of data on any device.

You are also talking about 3G data here. Other than the HSPA BB's coming out for GSM carriers, almost any demanding data app is performed over WIFI because of the quality of the end product. And I am pretty certain that when BB users are at home, WIFI is the connection of choice. Especially as 3G is the only alternative.

This blog would be an excellent argument for Sprint customers that had to pay the $10 premium data fee when they upgraded to a BB after the fee went into effect. Other than that this blog is superficial as far as the competition.

This article was not intended to put blame on anyone or any OS for that matter. I'm sure if you read it clearly, you would have understood that it was clearly about the differences in data usage across all platforms. The decision for carriers to introduce tiered data pricing in not based solely on that, but people have been also requesting tiered data, and now that tiered data is coming into fruition, people are saying "OMG I have to pay what?!?!?" So for those people that use a lot of data, they'll definitely feel the burning pockets and those who don't consume that much data might not feel it as much. If you have been grandfathered into the unlimited data, then there's no need to worry...for now at least.

But this article is about Avg MB usage over OS's. That value it is showing for Android is the average reported data usage per month per device, whether it be streaming, browsing, emails...etc. And those numbers sound right on cue as to what has been reported on the cellphonejunkie podcast, and on the Androidcentral website and podcast. I am not denying that BB uses less data, but we are talking about DATA as a whole. And we know that iOS and Android, and hell, even W7 offers a more complex media experience on their devices. When compared to what BB has to offer to a rich multimedia experience, it is nil. I would like to see what a Playbook owner on a carriers network would use as a solo mobile device with a 3G or 4G connection. Because honestly, that is the only thing BB has to compare to the capabilities of the compared OS's in this study.

4x as many emails with BB, 2x as long on FaceBook, 2x as long browsing.

As pointed out by another poster, comparing like-for-like data on CrackBerry, the BB is far more efficient.

As for multi-media experience, the Bold screen is bright and its speakers are louder than the iPhone 4's so I don't feel that I'm losing out desperately when it comes to watching YouTube videos on the fly.

Interestingly I often find that my BB will stream a YouTube video 'in the field' (not in wifi or perfect 3g) quicker and better than an iPhone. Must be the compressed data.

That wasn't the discussion. You were talking about how the data values are higher on other devices because the user will be consuming different media.

I pointed out how it's been proven that the BB is more efficient when comparing consumption of the same media with another device.

Well then the bottom graph should be removed. Because it is not "fact" that emails, browsing, and facebook accrue that much data on the other OS's. The bottom graph is talking overall data usage. It's almost like a politician spin doctoring the numbers

Do you agree?

Click on Michelle's link in the comments, pages 7 onwards, it explains how the comparisons were made.

Foe example -

Emails: sending emails of increasingly large size via the three devices. The upload and download consumption was compared.

Browsing: refreshing various sites, Amazon etc..., upload and download compared again.

Facebook: status updates, refreshing news feeds etc...again compared across the three devices.

Read it for yourself, it's all pretty straightforward, no need to try and twist the argument, the fact is that BBs use less data than other platforms because their servers (BIS or BES) compress the data before sending it to the handset.

I hope this is OK with you?

I am not arguing the browser, facebook, email stuff. I understand that. I am saying that the bottom graph is not comprised of just email, facebook, and browsing. If you were to look at the Nielsen source, then you would see my argument about the bottom graph. The 2nd to last sentence in the blog is not correct, or shouldn't be there.

Nielsen...

"The surge in data use is coming mostly from Android and iPhone owners, who on average are consuming 582MB and 492MB per month, respectively. But data usage among Windows Phone 7 users doubled over the past two quarters, driven by a rise in the number of available mobile apps."

No where in that source is it talking about browsing, emails, and facebook. If you did only those 3 things on any of the OS's the results would be drastically lower. However, that is about all you can do on a BB at the moment. And altough sad, it is true.

You can browse, blog, upload to Flickr, use DropBox, email, social network, stream music and video (and films - BBC iPlayer, may not be available in your country) over the BB.

I don't see much wrong with the last sentence in Michelle's blog, maybe it's a little excitable but you'll struggle to convince any fair minded individual that it is not a reasonable comment:

"Is that because BlackBerry users don't check their emails, or use social networking, or browse the internet? Of course not. It's because of the more efficient way that data is used on a BlackBerry."

Regardless of what the Neilsen source is talking about, the trend is the same as in Michelle's pasted link to the PDF. I agree that the overall data consumption via apps could be less on the BB because some of the apps aren't as complex as those on the iPhone or Android, but that graph as I see it does not show to what extent apps have an effect.

Another contributing factor (though again to what degree we do not know) would be truncated emails on the BB. The work around is easy enough if you have webmail, just log on using the browser and not the native email but it could be a factor.

Do you have any other info on the Neilsen source other than the link at the end of this blog? i.e. the separate components of overall data usage?

It would be interesting to see the consumption comparison between the devices using popular apps such as Poynt, Twitter, YouTube, Google Maps.

I just want to say I agree with you. In addition to that, BlackBerry web experience is supper slow for me. My friends on the exact same 3G network load exact same web page in seconds on their iPhones and Windows phones while I am waiting for BIS to load. If not for the physical keyboard and reliable handset(yes iPhones breaks a lot more than you think), I am done with RIM for sure.

"BlackBerry owners are remaining fairly consistent in their usage. Is that because BlackBerry users don't check their emails, or use social networking, or browse the internet? Of course not. It's because of the more efficient way that data is used on a BlackBerry."

This comment on the blog really should be removed. You're comparing OS data usage (bottom graph) with OS's that are growing, meanwhile BB users are crying for QNX to be released to catch up to the data hog device capabilities (e.g. adobe flash)

My first BB was a 9550, I retired that when I switched to Sprint and got an Android device. After having issues with that device I begged for a 9650 for a replacement. After switching, I realized that I was using the same apps I was using before. App development is so slow on a BB. That is part, if not, most of the reason why BB has flatlined.

I actually think it's much more efficient then that

Open crackberry.com on BBOS6- under 2mb
Open crackberry on Android - 2.60mb
Refresh crackberry.com on BBOS6- 150kb
Refresh crackkberry.com on android - 2mb

The more times you refresh the more data you save.

Put it this way... People on average are paying $30/month on bb data plan and same goes to other smartphones users. I myself and like many of my friends could not justify paying $30/month for just a messaging phone to use BBM and emails when I was already paying $20 for unlimited text as well.

So after switching from a 9630 to a iPhone, I've been juicing my $30 data plan on apps and everything I can think off.

You make a good point but here's my perspective: It may not be relevant to you if you don't travel abroad often but international roaming data charges are a bitch, or they can be if you exceed certain levels.

The BB is very lean in its data consumption and I use mine abroad just as I do at home whereby colleagues with other smartphones are more inclined to wait till they are in a wifi hotspot which is usually back at the hotel. By that time, I'll be on my laptop.

Living in Europe where we have access to many different countries, it's things like this that keep BB ahead in some areas, even though they are wanting in others.

Yes, I can't deny that advantage as far as international roaming goes. I also believe VZW is the only one in the US that offers a flat rate data price for internaional travelers. But I'm pretty sure in many countries you can just get a prepaid sim and pay for data use only for certain amount of days.

Yes you can do that too, but it's not always convenient because your phone number then changes. For me the luxury of firing up the phone when the plane lands and handling my emails or bringing up google maps before I even hit immigration is one thing that makes travelling easier for me.

Or say if I'm on a road trip and hitting a different country every three days, the SIM option is not the best way to go.

For folks that want to take a two week trip and ease away from work, yeah the sim card option would be the ideal work around.

Yep, I too am grandfathered in to an unlimited data plan with AT&T so I'm sticking with them for as long as I can. I love my Blackberry & there has been times when I've TRIED to use more data & while at work I've launched my browser & just let it sit at my desk, got my bill & it was at about my normal usage anyway, guess this article kind of explains why.

Until everyone is unlimited and secure, rim will lose this particular edge but until then I never worry about my usage. I have enough quota for external use. Also no matter how much I browse my usage is soo small. I love my data on bb :)

Don't know about you but my particular carriewr includes BIS for free as well as data for the same price as a non bb smartphone with the same extra data usage that they use for their normal usage. Bargain!

I don't think RIM's data compression is exactly something to crow about. Great for using social media apps. But, not so great for web browsing. Yes, you use less data. But, it is one of the reasons people are leaving. We already know apps (lack of) is one, but this is the other.

My co-worker's average monthly data usage on her BB was 4-6 mg, so she wasn't a heavy data user. When she switched over to an Android phone for 3 weeks, she racked up over 500 mg! This explains why the jump was so large. I'm a heavy user. I'm on my BB all the time and I only average 230 mg a month.

As Glinc has mentioned above, if it doesn't affect the price to the end user, why would they care about how much data their phone uses?

In some instances it's important, such as frequent international travel where you don't have the option to get another SIM, but this is not an issue for the majority of users I would have thought.

2x more browsing data than other phones? I call bull on that. Aside from data compression and BIS security which cant really be evaluated properly, I highly doubt BB stands out in the web browsing catagory..

This article is doing nothing but stating the obvious. Of course blackberrys use less data. Doing anything that is data intensive on a blackberry is so painfully slow and unfulfilling that most people don't bother. Blackberrys are communication devices and basic communication requires little data.

That's your personal feeling; plenty of people have no trouble streaming music and video on their BBs or browsing for extended periods.

This info might be obvious to you but not everyone will be as knowledgeable as you are on the subject of smartphones.

It's not just my opinion. Its pretty much the reality of the situation. I am not saying that you should agree. If you are happy with your blackberry's performance as it pertains to data intensive activity then the more power to you. Im just saying that you are in the minority. On Crackberry, Im sure you are in the majority but if you look at BB's declining market share, this web site does not reflect the general concensus. Look at the typical defense of BB:
1) If I want to browse the web I will do it on my laptop
2) If you want to watch streaming video I'll do it on my desktop
3) Mobile site are fine for what I need

They always go that way. You put any current BB against any current Android,IOS or even WP7 device and its a not even a contest. I have a blackberry 9700, running OS 6 and if I try and open more than two web sites (full web sites), I get a "your devices memory is low so the browser will shut down". Or "The page you are trying to load is to big". Never had that warning on an Iphone or Android device.

OS 6 on a 9700???

There's your problem right there. You can't run OS 6 on a 256 MB RAM phone and expect it to do anything more than tell time. Run OS 6 on a phone that's supposed to run it.....then we'll have something to compare.

I agree with Garment69. People with faster android devices will use them longer and more often. I refuse to web browse on my blackberry 9700 unless i'm on wifi. Combine the slow speeds with the blackberry's small screen size and it doesn't compare to the pleasure of being on a 4g, 4" lcd android device. Blackberry wins the best value category for having slower, less expensive data plans. That is why i continue to upgrade rather than switch.

I had a Curve on ATT, then i switched to Samsung Galaxy for a year, as soon as I was able to upgrade again I cameback to the Torch. Data usage has been the same for me on all 3, yes android had shinier apps, but I came back to BlackBerry for better and faster email, texting, gps and battery life.

The only problem with this data compression is a sloooow browser experience and download of apps. Good for emails, bbm etc but browser should not go through NOC.

The chart of usage interesting. Obviously Android uses the most data. It lives in the cloud all of your contacts, calendar, etc live in the cloud and are auto syncing. So yeah data would go up. iOS uses it's fare share from surfing the web and getting FULL email not truncated. BB's are great devices for data because everything is compressed but, with that compression comes it's limits. Android and iOS are not to blame for data prices going up t is the carriers
seeing more smartphones invade the arena therefore they want to capitalize on it.

I wish that RIM give an option to switch between BIS an regular 3G on web browser for new BlackBerries. This way each user can define how the data is transmitted. I found the web on my 9700 to be freaking slow. I don't care how much less data I use, when I need to search my school stuff while studying in the basement in the middle of the night, I should be able to quickly search the web. The whole point of having a SMART PHONE is that it can be used for quick things like that instead of turning on my laptop and waiting for it to boot up.

I know RIM will not have regular 3G/4G connection for regular non-business users like me. It is a good thing that 9900 was delayed because now I can look in to iPhone5 and compare the two before I buy one.

I'm not sure why consumers don't care about data usage but in 2-3 years when iphone and android users are paying $200/mth for data and they're calls are being dropped constantly THEY WILL CARE.

I think BlackBerry/RIM needs to do a better job at selling this benefit as it will be crucial in an age of reduced bandwidths.

One additional reason android phones use more data is that they have 4g lte phones which leads to more streaming videos.