How much cellular and Wi-Fi data are smartphone users consuming, and with which apps? The Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint Q4 2016 breakdown

It’s clear that, thanks to unlimited data offers and the falling cost of the GB, wireless customers can now access more content on their phones at faster speeds than ever before. But what exactly are they doing on their phones, how much data are they chewing through, and which networks are they using to do it?

And perhaps most importantly, how does that break down across the customers of Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint?

A new partnership between FierceWireless and P3 (and P3’s partner Strategy Analytics) aims to answer those questions. P3 is a global consulting, management and engineering services company, and it collects data on U.S. wireless usage via more than 2,300 participating smartphone users, with nearly 11 million samples from throughout the United States. And thanks to P3’s new deal with research and consulting firm Strategy Analytics, P3’s data has been merged with the demographic and psychographic information collected by Strategy Analytics' AppOptix, a real-time mobile consumer tracking and intelligence platform.

The below information was obtained during the fourth quarter, between September and December 2016. To check out P3 data from earlier in 2016, click here.

For more information on P3, click here, and for information on Strategy Analytics, click here. And click here to check out P3's app.


Analysis from P3: The chart shows the average number of app sessions per user per day, total data volume per smartphone user per day, and average smartphone app usage time per user per day.

The frequency of app usage on cellular increased in the fourth quarter of 2016 at the expense of less frequent app usage on Wi-Fi. Users on all networks but Verizon used apps significantly more often on cellular than on Wi-Fi. This is especially true for Sprint users, who show a massive shift in app sessions to cellular from Wi-Fi. This may be attributed to the introduction of Sprint’s unlimited data plans, which also may be the reason for the significant increase in both usage time and data volume per user per day on cellular.

Analysis from P3: The chart shows the percentage of time smartphone users use any app on Wi-Fi over the last three months of 2016. While earlier in 2016 the time-based Wi-Fi share across the four carriers showed a decline over time, this trend did not continue and, in particular, the Wi-Fi share for T-Mobile users increased to an all-year high, though still showing the lowest share among all carriers. Verizon users continue to rely on Wi-Fi for over half of their app usage time.

Analysis from P3: The charts show the most-used smartphone apps for customers of the four national U.S. carriers ordered by transmitted data volume and by the time users spent with the apps on both mobile and Wi-Fi.

Facebook clearly dominates app usage stats for usage time regardless of connection type.

The increased app usage by Sprint users on cellular manifests in more time spent browsing and significantly more time and data on Netflix, which now is one of the top 10 apps Sprint customers use over cellular.

Analysis from P3: The chart shows the amount of cellular and Wi-Fi data used by customers in different age groups. The results combine P3's passive data collection with the opt-in panel data generated by Strategy Analytics' mobile intelligence platform. Across all four carriers, younger customers use more cellular data. Wi-Fi data usage among the 25 and under age group is especially high compared with older age groups.