Mobile’s Data Usage & Revenues Disconnect

U.S. mobile users consumed almost 400 petabytes of data last year, up 193 percent from 2008, according to a new report from analyst Chetan Sharma. But carrier revenues aren’t keeping pace.
Sharma, who also serves as a member of the GigaOM Pro Analyst Network, reported that U.S. data traffic exceeded voice traffic by almost 400 terabytes in 2009; and he expects that the ratio between the two voice and data traffic to double this year. U.S. mobile data services revenues grew at only 24 percent year-over-year, though, and are expected to grow just 20 percent in 2010.

And while voice ARPU declined by a substantial 98 cents for U.S. carriers, data ARPU increased by a mere 4 percent to 53 cents as overall ARPU decreased 45 cents on the year.

Interestingly, Verizon and AT&T accounted for 88 percent of the increase in data revenues in the fourth quarter of 2009 — a fact that helps explain why the nation’s two largest carriers continue to separate themselves from their competitors.

Sharma notes that the market penetration of mobile in the U.S. is 99 percent for people older than the age of five. So as Stacey pointed out earlier today, carriers are running out of growth options. The key for the most lucrative operators, then, will be more effectively monetizing data traffic while limiting the impact that traffic has on their networks. Which is why both AT&T and Verizon are moving toward metered billing and away from flat-rate data plans.
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