Mobile users clam up, use more data, survey shows

Talk minutes are falling while data use is rising, but that may not mean more money, according to PwC

Mobile users in North America are hanging up and using email, text or social networking at a rapid pace, according to a survey by PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

Postpaid subscribers, who pay a regular bill for mobile service at the end of each month, spent an average of 673 minutes per month talking on the phone in the year as of June 30, 2012. That was down from 714 minutes per month a year earlier, while those same subscribers' monthly data use grew from 548MB to 694MB, according to a PwC survey of North American mobile operators released on Friday.

Cost-conscious consumers finally joining the mobile revolution is probably one reason for the fall in talk minutes, PwC said, but data services are definitely on the rise. Customers using new, faster networks are consuming 700% more data than the average subscriber. The average user of these so-called mobile broadband networks used about 4.8GB of data per month as of June 2012, up from about 3.6GB the previous June.

Smartphones are the gateway to these new mobile habits for many consumers. In June 2012, 56% of postpaid subscribers had smartphones, up from just 39% a year earlier, PwC reported. Tablets are playing a big role, too: For the average North American carrier surveyed, the number of tablet connections to the mobile network grew by almost 43% from 2011 to 2012.

The shift from voice to data has big implications for carriers, and it's not all good news. The average revenue per user for postpaid customers with smartphones fell between 2011 and 2012, from $82.75 to $77.79 per month. What data services add to a monthly bill may be offset by purchases of smaller voice plans.

However, carriers are shaking up their service plans in ways that might hold off dwindling voice revenues. For example, the new shared data plans from Verizon Wireless and AT&T charge subscribers a monthly rate per device, regardless of talk time, so those who talk less pay the same as others.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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