'Data Hog' study hypocritically blames customer for 1% of phones that eat 25% of bandwidth

New study blames iPhone, Android users to sucking up more than fair share of cell bandwidth

Most people know – thanks to relentless, pepper-spray-flavored attempts the OccupyWallStreet movement spent months reminding us during 2011 – that the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans took in a quarter of all the income available to individuals last year. They also own 40 percent of everything there is to own, according to Census and U.S. Treasury figures

That inequity prompted enough Occupations that defenders of or aspirants to the 1 percent worried aloud that the various Occupations would turn into an American version of the revolutions dubbed "Arab Spring" earlier in the year.

That was alarmist hyperbole, of course, painting the protesters as dangerously unstable, potentially violent criminals intent on destroying all the things that made America great just to satisfy their own self-obsessed senses of entitlement.

"Blame the Victim" is a really good game if you're the one being accused and can't come up with any plausible reasons to explain why a decades-long obsessive, pathological selfishness is not only legal(ish), but more Constitutional than allowing the victims to stand up and complain about being dismissed, marginalized and robbed of what used to be called the American Dream, and permanently relegated to lower socio-economic classes no matter how great their talents or ambitions.

That's all about life, liberty and pursuing happiness, though – issues about which people tend to be sensitive because all three got a passing reference in some archaic, handwritten notes that are obviously irrelevant in the 21st century except the parts that allow the owning of guns, slaves and monopolies.

Warning to Congress: Give carriers a break before iPhoners eat us all!

Will anyone get anywhere near that upset following revelations that users of the iPhone 4S are nearly as blatant hogs of cellular bandwidth as "the 1 percent" are of the income, property and civil rights titularly available to every American?

iPhone 4S smartphones use twice as much bandwidth as iPhone 4s, and three times the bandwidth of iPhone 3G users, possibly due to the relentless self-querying, web-surfing digital personal assistant Siri that comes with Apple's newest phones.

Just 1 percent (we have heard that number before) – 1 percent of all wireless users consume half of all the data downloaded across cellular networks every day, according to a new study from cellular-network management vendor Arieso.

ManyAndroid users also qualify as what Arieso calls "extreme" users – uploading three times as much data as iPhone 3G users and making far more data calls per subscriber – though both other iPhone versions are ahead even of the top Androids in most usage metrics.

In one portion of Arieso's writeup the company becomes blatantly self-serving: it warns that that carriers don't know enough about who the data hogs are and what do to about them. Arieso sells software claiming to be able to fix that problem.

Carriers on guard against 'extreme users' who use and buy services the carriers promote relentlessly

The more insidious part of the writeup is the one in which Arieso stops talking about which devices use the most data and switches directly to a blatantly sycophantic, contextually inaccurate claim that "extreme users" are to blame for overloaded mobile networks.

“The introduction of increasingly sophisticated devices, coupled with growing consumer demand, is creating unrelenting pressure on mobile networks. The capacity crunch is still a very real threat for mobile operators, and it looks set to only get harder in 2012,” commented Dr. Michael Flanagan, CTO, Arieso and study author. “The mobile industry needs new investment and new approaches to boost network performance and manage the customer experience”. – Arieso CTO Michael Flanagan, Jan. 6, 2012, announcing the study “Recent Smartphone Trends & the Extreme Data User”

That all sounds dire enough to prompt some serious action. The first time you hear them so do the over-parodied local-news promos that ask "Is your shampoo killing you? Tune in at 11 for the answer," (which is 'no').

The carriers' version of killer shampoo is the extreme user who is selfishly eating up so much wireless bandwidth that carriers are helpless to provide even adequate levels of service to everyone else with a smartphone.

Carriers complain that the FCC is shackling them with oppressive regulation, preventing them from properly managing their networks and allowing them to be victimized by anarchic, patchouli-smelling, financial-district-camping subversive bandwidth pirates whose reigns of terror the carriers did nothing to promote and whose outrages damage the Economy and Moral Fabric of these United States.

Relentless competition for data hogs

That's good political theater for people who still believe anything carriers say about their intentions for net neutrality, the technical capabilities and bandwidth of their networks or the degree to which they are involved in the technologies they claim will be their downfall without radical deregulation.

AT&T, for example, consistently sits at the bottom of the performance- and customer-service-rating scale.

Consumer Reports rated AT&T service the worst of all the major carriers at the end of 2010. During the following quarter, the first of 2011, its rating dropped even further. AT&T finished 2011 still at the bottom of the list in quality of service and satisfaction of its customers.

Higher-rated carriers spent most of 2010 and 2011 chasing what AT&T had, though – the iPhone and its data-hogging customers.

Verizon eventually managed to get iPhones to sell and, along with them, another reason to complain that it should be exempt from net neutrality regulations because all the new iPhone customers were hogging all its bandwidth.

(It definitely helped attract the "hogs" that Verizon offered unlimited-data plans for the iPhone at first, though it quickly nixed that in favor of bandwidth-use-limiting data caps and higher fees for every byte a user downloads beyond 2GB/month.)

It may be my fevered imagination from my relatively ancient and superficial training in economics in college, but cutting off a plan to offer unlimited amounts of anything for a flat fee and charging usurous fees for the same service seems to qualify as a cost/benefit-based control of usage.

That is, it's an approach that pays not only for the service itself, but pays for the abuse of the system by a few bad apples by making them pay for disproportionate use with disproportionate fees.

Verizon had its problems getting even a vaguely accurate idea of how much data people were using, of course. That's just incompetence and a refusal to instrument your network to the point that you can actually control it.

I can't imagine any network manager getting an unlimited upgrade budget justified by his or her failure to figure out ahead of time how heavily the network was already being used.

That's what Verizon and AT&T are doing, though. And they're blaming the "extreme users" for putting them in an untenable position.

Is there a tech-industry TLA for hypocrisy, calumny and highway robbery?

Every year the managers of state turnpikes and stat-road-maintenance bureaus make the same argument, by the way: there are too many cars; they're doing too much damage to my roads for me to fix; I need more money for roads.

Those claims are almost always over blown and under-supported by data, too. They have one thing going for them the carriers don't though: Civil engineers responsible for maintaining state highways have no real control over how many people live in the state, travel through it, own cars, drove on highways, or drive on highways a LOT.

Carriers have almost total control over everyone of those things.

The services like Siri, auto-download, auto-updata apps Android users are unable to delete from their phones, and the increasing volume of web traffic coming from smartphones are all growing because the carriers add those services to their networks without upgrading the networks enough to support them.

That's not the fault of people who buy the data-hog phones or use the data-hog services.

It's the fault of the cell-network engineers (actually their boss's boss's bosses) who didn't add a few extra subnets or a few upgraded routers to data bottlenecks.

It's even more the fault of the carriers' financial policies, which charge sky-high fees for every service or move online through a smartphone – money that could easily be used to upgrade the networks supposedly being swamped by extreme-user data-hogging iPhone 4S and Android users.

If the problem exists at all – and it largely does not – it's more the fault of the carriers' decision to oversell the network, not the decision of extreme users to overuse it.

"Extreme" users are doing exactly what the carriers worked so hard to sell them on: a ubiquitous voice-and-data service rich enough to provide directions, communications, recommendations, shopping, advice and information piped directly into the hand of the subscriber wherever he or she is.

Users don't really want to pay the inflated data-plan fees most carriers charge. They do it anyway, but realize they're being overcharged.

Even at those rates the data fees don't cover the need to expand networks and services as quickly as carriers need to do.

That's why concepts like return-on-investment and risk-analysis entered the business world: There are times, frequent ones, during which businesses have to invest in themselves in order to be able to reap greater profits afterward.

It's a well established principle, with well-documented metrics to define how well it's working.

It doesn't include the need to villify the leading-edge customers willing to pay a premium to get the first, unreliable versions of the service and help offset some of the investment with those higher fees, their de facto role as test dummies for new technology and the example they set to more prudent users who would prefer to wait for prices to come down and quality to come up before buying new, expensive services.

Don't spend all day hard-selling me a Cadillac and then call me a gas guzzler!

'Data Hogs' and 'Extreme Users' aren't deadbeats; they're good customers who caved in to the hard sell on devices that are expensive both to buy and to use.

They're not deadbeats.

So why do carriers keep claiming they are?

Same reason "the 1 percent" complain that OccupyWallStreet people are anarchists intent on destroying our economy and society: if they can't demonize someone else they can't trade on fear of a demon to get what they want.

And, if there weren't a demon – or a scapegoat, if you prefer a less colorful metaphor – on which to blame both existing problems and those the carriers intend to create with the next set of expensive services they add to the net, they might have to take the blame themselves for creating networks without enough bandwidth, flexibility or cost-effectiveness to provide the level of service they promise without grossly overcharging the exact customers they pursued most ardently.

There are specific characteristics required for anyone cynical enough to sell premium services and then complain that they're being used, though they're more common in politics than technology:

1. Hypocrisy.

2. Constant self-serving restatements of the 'truth.' (Called 'lies' in person and 'rhetoric' on the campaign trail.)

3. A shameless and unethical willingness to manipulate and exploit customers, lawmakers, the economy and smartphone service providers in order to let carriers promise the moon and bill for it, but deliver only the image of a cable guy, pants around his ankles, facing away from us, bowing politely to deliver the right spin on the message the carriers are delivering.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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