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UK Mobile Web Use Constrained by Data Limit Concerns

Data limit concerns have made UK mobile web users cautious

September 12, 2013 | Mobile | Telecom

Large numbers of UK smartphone owners may be using only small fractions of their mobile data allowances. An April 2013 study from Mobidia and Informa Telecoms & Media specifically surveyed UK Android smartphone users and found that 65.5% of respondents across a range of data plans used less than half their data limit. This was the highest proportion using less than half their data limit across the six markets covered in the study.

Android Smartphone Users in Select Countries Who Use Less than Half of Their Data Limit, by Data Plan, April 2013 (% of total in each group)

A lot of mobile data is being funneled via private Wi-Fi. One reason for this selection of Wi-Fi in preference to the mobile network may be historical—the slow move toward 4G in the UK meant the best way to consume data-heavy content was to connect to faster and more stable fixed networks. However, another phenomenon in the UK may have contributed to this behavior. Indeed, it may even have been accentuated by recent 4G rollouts in the UK. That phenomenon is “bill shock” (in this instance, when a user grossly overuses data applications without an appropriate data plan).

When mobile operator Three entered the UK market in 2003, it offered something unique—an all-you-can-eat data plan. It took a while for other operators to catch on, but even when they did, there ensued a kind of “data-plan soup” that left consumers confused about what their allowances really meant. Almost a decade of bill-shock stories then littered the UK press pages.

Then 4G service was launched in the UK and the issue came to prominence again. When the UK’s first 4G provider, EE, launched its service in October last year, data caps were relatively meager for all but the most expensive plans. The most recent 4G entrants, O2 and Vodafone, have been criticized for similarly prohibitive plans, and Three looks set to be the only provider to offer unlimited plans—again—when it launches its 4G service by the end of the year.

No wonder that consumers are confused and cautious about their data use. May 2013 research from EE gave some interesting insight into this mindset. It asked its 4G subscribers what activities they conducted more often since they moved to 4G. Despite the great fanfare around the facility for seamless media streaming, the most popular activity was simple web browsing—an altogether much less data-heavy activity.

Activities Conducted More Often via Mobile Since Starting to Use 4G According to UK 4G Mobile Users, May 2013 (% of respondents)

There is clearly still a degree of caution being exercised by UK smartphone users with regard to their data usage. Of course, as 4G service becomes more widespread and accepted in the UK, these concerns may diminish, but for now, confusion continues to surround mobile price plans.

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