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Mobile Data Usage Up 25%

The average consumer now gobbles up 31GB per month.

In the wireless equivalent of “If you build it, they will come,” mobile phone users are hungrily gobbling up all the video content, streaming music and social media that they and their devices can absorb.

According to NPD Group, the average U.S. smartphone user now blows through 31.4 GB of data a month via cellular and Wi-Fi, representing a 25 percent increase over last year.

Also driving consumption is the return of unlimited data plans, as spearheaded by T-Mobile and Sprint, plus more expansive Wi-Fi coverage. Indeed, cellular data usage among consumers with unlimited plans is 67 percent higher than those with fixed data allowances, while the limited data crowd is upping its usage of Wi-Fi, which spike 18 percent above unlimited-plan subscribers in October alone.

The vast majority of that data is used for streaming video, which accounts for 83 percent of total data consumed, NPD said.

But the increased consumption that came with unlimited data plans has been stressing some mobile networks, as reflected in reports of slower connection speeds for Verizon and AT&T customers.

“Unlimited data plans have become the de facto offering in the market and the significant variance between consumption levels of unlimited plan and limited plan users can be alarming for mobile carriers, as networks become increasingly congested,” noted Brad Akyuz, director, industry analyst for NPD’s Connected Intelligence. “When users migrate from limited plans to unlimited plans, their consumption behavior shifts in favor of using cellular data more regularly. Users on unlimited plans don’t regularly seek Wi-Fi connectivity for data-hungry transactions such as video streaming, application updates, and downloads as they are not concerned about data overage fees.”

NPD’s findings are based on VPN and on-device metering of more than 2,500 Android and iOS users, and are compiled in its just-released Smartphone and Tablet Usage report.