back to article Data-thirsty mobile owners burn through 5GB a month

CK Hutchison’s Three network says each customer burns through 5GB of mobile data a month, on average, and around half of that is YouTube traffic*. Three carries 42 per cent of the UK’s mobile bits, and it has seen an increase of 1.7GB per customer per month from last year. The UK network disclosed its financial results today …

  1. Lee D Silver badge

    Yep.

    So when are mobile operators going to start knocking stupidly low limits on the head, account for proper growth of data usage, and start deploying 4G to its full extent?

    1. AceRimmer

      Supply and demand

      According to Three Mobile, supply is limited

      "we’re spectrum constrained and therefore capacity constrained”.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Supply and demand

        "we’re spectrum constrained and therefore capacity constrained”.

        Does seem that Ofcom (and others) are looking at the wrong things when they go on and on about a lack of competition if the four UK mobile operators become three...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The answer is more, shorter ranged masts with their own backhaul. This lets you have more users of the same spectrum in a given area.

        1. JetSetJim Silver badge

          The answer is more, shorter ranged masts with their own backhaul. This lets you have more users of the same spectrum in a given area.

          And much higher CAPEX and OPEX costs for the network....

          Networks are complicated, expensive beasts. The operator will first deploy for coverage, and then hopefully monitor what capacity is doing in their network to do infill with extra sites/carriers to boost capacity at "hot" areas, all the while hopefully optimising for subscriber quality on core services - e.g. Voice MOS, and managing profit margins against deployment plans and subscriber churn.

          Small cell densification of the networks is being touted as the answer - as a CAPEX they are much cheaper to buy, plus have fewer hurdles to planning permission. But there is still the problem of backhaul availability with LTE sites needing O(100mbps) to run at decent capacity.

  2. Flywheel Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Yes, but ..

    Isn't that what they designed it for? You don't buy a Rolls Royce just to keep it in the garage and look at?!

    *sigh*

  3. Franco Silver badge

    I'd feel more sympathy if I wasn't just shunted to a new tariff. I was on the old £6.90 a month (200mins, 5000txts, 500mb) and they wanted to move me to a plan costing twice as much. Only after I called them did they admit my tariff still existed, just costs £8 a month now

    1. Thomas Steven 1

      Same here

      I was on £15pcm tariff with unlimited data (no idea about calls and texts as I don't use them) and they have just sent me a letter saying they're going to put me on a £30pcm tariff based on my usage. There's a £20 tariff with unlimited data and less calls and texts (which I don't use anyway).

      The old plan had unlimited tethering and the new one has tethering capped at 12Gb. Not happy about that either, even if I wasn't hitting anywhere near the cap. Personally I think this seems diametrically at odds with their current advertising campaign.

      1. Franco Silver badge

        Re: Same here

        I suspect they are trying it on with the letters and the "recommended" new plan, give them a call and you'll probably find they've got something closer to what you use. All you can eat data is no more I think though.

        Agree that the advertising is a joke, but I had a look round and only Giffgaff has a plan anywhere close in price to mine. Didn't check BT though, for obvious reasons.

        1. GregC

          Re: Same here

          All you can eat data is no more I think though.

          No - AYCE data is still there, it's just the tethering that's capped, at 12GB as mentioned. I renewed my contract just before Christmas and got the standard unlimited data contract at £18/mo just before it went up to £20. As I get through 10-20GB a month Three still offers the best deal for me.

          Don't really get this thing about data speeds being slow either - I get anywhere between 8-75 mbits download depending where I am, unless I'm somewhere with no signal at all.

          1. Dazed and Confused Silver badge

            Re: Same here

            We've got 3 of the Three SIM only deals, the first was only £12->13/m the other 2 were a couple of quid more. When we took them out we were warned that tethering was limited but they haven't complained about the usage. Number2 son burns through well over 100G each and every month these days,I think he took it as a great insult when I pointed out in the first month he'd missed the 100GB by a a couple of MB and has promised to use it more ever since. Compared with him my usage is trivial, but they've just texted me to say my recent trip to the US would have been £1500 more expensive if they charged for roaming (it wouldn't have been, I'd have turned off roaming and bought a local SIM).

            They still seem to have parent friendly tariffs (ie you know what it's going to cost you - no shocks!)

            1. Cynical Observer

              Re: Same here

              "They still seem to have parent friendly tariffs (ie you know what it's going to cost you - no shocks!)"

              Agree - up to a point!

              I'm aware that you can cap the plan - disallow calls once the allowance has been burnt through, disallow calls to numbers not covered by the plan.

              What I couldn't find was any easy way to configure a cap on data - I wonder if that's by design?

              Cynical? Moi?

              1. Roland6 Silver badge

                Re: Same here

                What I couldn't find was any easy way to configure a cap on data - I wonder if that's by design?

                Just call them, I put a hard'ish cap on my data.

                Basically, they will cap the data, but due to delays in the way charges are applied etc. you may find there are occassions you go 10~100MB over.

              2. Dazed and Confused Silver badge

                Re: Same here

                "They still seem to have parent friendly tariffs (ie you know what it's going to cost you - no shocks!)"

                Agree - up to a point!

                ...

                What I couldn't find was any easy way to configure a cap on data

                Since it is an all you can eat service why would you want to put a cap on the data usage?

                Except to limit the amount of time the little perisher spends gawping at YouTube

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Same here

              ...but they've just texted me to say my recent trip to the US would have been £1500 more expensive if they charged for roaming

              The government will be pleased that the telco was able to know you had gone to the US. As well as the fact they are able to record visits to Youtube, FB etc.

              Big Sister will be very pleased with them.

            3. Timmay

              Re: Same here

              @ Dazed and Confused

              > "Number2 son burns through well over 100G each and every month these days"

              This why we can't have nice things.

              1. Andyroochoo

                Re: Same here

                i decided to try and transfer as much data as possible.

                the end result was 2.25tb.

                I did this out of pure spite!!!

                up yours three!

      2. tin 2

        Re: Same here

        Same experience. I use on average 3-4GB a month on the same plan. Just had it for the "luxury" of never needing to worry about limits.

        Eventually got to discussing the 12GB plan with the bloke on the phone, but for £17. I said I wasn't really interested in paying more for a plan that offered a lot less. That's as far he was prepared to go and now my plan is £0 a month :)

  4. djstardust Silver badge

    Doesn't feel like home

    Whether your roaming is free (or £5 a day in non home countries) Youtube is blocked totally, doesn't even play 240p videos. Same for Maps, Google Play and Spotify. None of the popular streaming services seem to work at all.

    They blame the local networks but if you use a VPN suddenly it's OK but with reduced data rate.

    Three need to come clean about their traffic shaping as it has never felt like home to me at all. They need to challenge themselves rather than the rest of the mobile industry.

    £3 a day on Vodafone and it's wonderful.

    1. ARGO

      Re: Doesn't feel like home

      All these are working fine here in Spain, and across all the allowed roaming operators (i just checked).

    2. Humpty McNumpty

      Flaky

      I don't travel a great deal but I've found roaming flaky. On a recent trip to Switzerland it connected to a network called Salt and I go the welcome message etc and small batch of Facebook/Whatsapp notifications (over what I have no idea). However the phone was telling me there was no data available, further into the mountains Salt vanished and instead my phone could see Swisscomm or OrangeCH but it didn't think I was allowed to connect to them, until 3 days later at which point suddenly OrangeCH was an acceptable network but data only triggered after I toggled it on and off (phone reboot didn't have the desired effect).Youtube certainly didn't work but Facebook did and so did uploading my photos to the googly cloud.

      I'm pretty certain I had a similar experience in Belgium a few years ago with the stubborness about joining certain networks and lack of data.

      As to contracts, I have a fairly old 3Pay SIM, Three's website states they promise to never take this tariff away. That gets you the ability to add 2Gb of data for £5 of your credit. Now admittedly this is nowhere near the apparent usage they claim people are up to these days, but when you have WiFi at work, at home and quite possibly several places in between how are these people burning through so much and would they be doing so if the allowance was lower?

    3. goldcd

      Re: Doesn't feel like home

      I tried it in the US - and it was perfect.

      Tried it in Australia - and much less so. Maps was fine, but youtube and spotify were most definitely not. Admittedly I got the important stuff I actually needed, but became suddenly aware it was a very constrained service. TraceRTs seemed to show my data bouncing randomly around the planet, so wasn't sure if it was a glitch or 'functioning as it was supposed to'

      Vodafone might be great on £3 a day, but certainly adds up over a couple of fortnights.

      ID the carphone warehouse brand, seems to now have a roaming-friendly plan. You're paying for it, but has pretty good European/US coverage.

  5. David Nash Silver badge

    This ever-increasing mobile data use is partly because apps and the OS expect data all the time, unreasonably in my view.

    I recently got a new Android phone (Moto X Style) and while it's very nice, why does it make it so hard to turn off mobile data? Click the control icon - That no longer simply toggles data, no, it takes you to the data usage page. Click to turn off data. Click YES I know my life will be meaningless without mobile data but I AM SURE. Click to get back to where I was.

    4 or more clicks instead of one. Even if Wifi is already on and connected.

    Anyway if the mobile companies are constrained by capacity, just price accordingly and people won't treat it like it's free.

    1. Yugguy
      Pint

      Buy a wileyfox swift with cyanogenos and take back control!

  6. wolfetone Silver badge

    Poor Web Development

    It's quite common to view a website that is just stuffed to the gills of large CSS and JS files, as well as images that aren't optimised before uploading to the server. In another life I administered a platform that 300 clubs of the charity I worked for, and the people administering the separate websites would always upload their photos direct from mobile phones or digital cameras. Then they'd post them on to the page they'd resize them there, which wouldn't reduce the actual size of the file just the space on screen it'd take up. They would then moan at me that the photos were taking too long to load "even though they're only small".

    Head? Meet Brick Wall - for 3 years.

    But these new fancy websites we're seeing are the same. The emphasis isn't on the end user, it's on trying to out do the rival developers and designs to make a site look nice. A nice site doesn't mean shit if:

    a) Takes too long to load

    b) Uses up a tonne of data

    Strip your sites back. Pretend we're back in the late 1990's and everyone had 56k dial up modems. Do more with less, and it's only then will you have a good website.

    1. Laurent Cargill

      Re: Poor Web Development

      Could not agree more. Recently hit the limit on my 500Mb per month when all I ever do is light web browsing. Then discovered that a popular news website that I regularly visit used 20Mb to load the homepage. The insanity.

    2. Boothy

      Re: Poor Web Development

      Ah, abuse of the height and width image attributes, I know it well.

      i.e. It should not be used to scale your images, it's only there to pre-allocate the space needed to display the image on the page, so the browser doesn't need to keep re-sizing during load!

      I remember being asked in the early 00s to check why a web page was taking ages to load over dial up. The remit to the developer was to create a page of thumbnails, that linked to some screen shots (about 20 of them).

      Turned out all the developer had done was to upload the raw image files, then used the height and width attributes to create thumbnail sized images, rather than creating real thumbnails. So locally the page loaded okay, but over dial up this was painfully slow.

      1. goldcd

        Ah

        but I bet those full sized images loaded like rockets when you clicked on them.

        Pre-emptive caching - your dev was way ahead of his time.

    3. Artaxerxes

      Re: Poor Web Development

      Websites are utterly foul to visit these days, many of them don't bother with backwards compatibility (LinkedIn is a bugger for this), have a horrible design for PC monitors and as soon as you hit them with a mobile browser spam you to install the app.

      Most news sites are going down the Buzzfeed route for content as well, I'm watching the BBC site turn into a video infested shithole these days

      1. wolfetone Silver badge

        Re: Poor Web Development

        "Websites are utterly foul to visit these days, many of them don't bother with backwards compatibility (LinkedIn is a bugger for this), have a horrible design for PC monitors and as soon as you hit them with a mobile browser spam you to install the app.

        Most news sites are going down the Buzzfeed route for content as well, I'm watching the BBC site turn into a video infested shithole these days"

        This. Just, this, everything wrong with the internet today. You know who the biggest culprit is? Web Design agencies themselves!

        In Birmingham, if you type "Web Design Companies" in to Google and visit the first 3/4 companies on there, all their sites are near identical. Parallax scrolling, the "three bars" in the corner operate the menu. I know the three stacked bar icon indicates menus on mobiles, but on a desktop? No. You have space, stick a menu bar there so your site can be used. The irony is though that the top 3/4 companies who come up on the search are also all next to each other. It's more keeping up with the jones' rather than putting the customer first.

        And totally agree with the BBC becoming BuzzFeed. Sites just want to make money, and they think "if we split the content up so you have to click to the next page we'll make more money from advertising". So what was half a page turns in to 5 pages where 3/4's of it are adverts.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Poor Web Development

      > It's quite common to view a website that is just stuffed to the gills of large CSS and JS files, as well as images that aren't optimised before uploading to the server.

      I must hang out with the wrong web developer crowd, because they regard unoptimised code (yes, they call it code, they "compile" it and all--run it through minifiers, optimisers, lint, the lot) as a form of heresy.

      Maybe it is just a local aberration, but my perception is that these days the lads write much more efficient web content than we used to back in the day. An increasing number of those are usable, to a large extent, without any network connection at all after initial load, perhaps months earlier. A bandwidth requirement of zero can hardly be considered inefficient.

      Quite obviously, I am not talking about El Reg, whose code is still stuck in the last decade.

  7. Microchip

    Re: Poor Web Development

    Related, sent from my boss recently

    http://idlewords.com/talks/website_obesity.htm - The Website Obesity Crisis.

    We're intentionally trying to minimise the amount of data and complexity of it now, to [a] make sure it loads fast on mobile as well as desktops, and [b] stop websites eating phone batteries for fun.

    It's shocking how much these frameworks that make life easier for the creative types eat CPU, therefore battery power, on mobile devices. Or sending huge pictures and letting the device resize them, nicely serving 500K instead of the 25K image that would do if it was resized server side, handily eating 0.5-1% of many people's data plans (it's surprising how many people have to get by with 500MB or 1GB now) in one fell swoop.

    Also related: Advertising scripts that eat CPU/battery/data just by existing, hence so many people blocking the things on mobile.

    (I'm also slightly bitter about 3 kicking me off the £15 One Plan - but like one of the posters above, I'm now on AYCE data, 12GB tether, 200 mins and AYCE texts for £20. Can't complain too much, was bound to happen in the end, I just hate bills going up. At least we know exactly what we're paying for, and it's quite reasonable for what it is with the AYCE mobile data. I rarely used over 12GB of tethering in a month, but it was just nice to know it was there if I needed it.)

    1. Humpty McNumpty

      Re: Poor Web Development

      Don't large slow pages hurt a sites Google ranking due to not being mobile friendly? Its certainly the impression I got from articles on here and indeed the "Google Webmaster" tools themselves.

    2. SolidSquid

      Re: Poor Web Development

      Really the frameworks are supposed to be for prototyping, then when you're done working out what you need you start cutting out the bits you don't. jQuery introduced subcomponents so you can load individual parts rather than the whole thing and, according to them at least, the full version will drop to 11kb when minified and gzipped during transfer if you use the minified version. jQuery UI lets you do custom builds which only include the features you want. Twitter Bootstrap you can just remove the js entirely if you aren't using it, and I'm sure other libraries like this let you pick and choose what parts you actually want

      Problem is this requires people to keep it in mind when they're building it, and plan time into the project for doing clean up work. There's also the issue of third party services, like the Twitter API or ad networks (mentioned in the article), where your page load time is impacted by the response time of third party servers which you have no control over. Not to mention if you have a lot of files to download rather than a small number of combined ones the overheads from the http requests will slow things down

      So yeah, all in all there are ways to improve it, but they depend on better planning of projects and getting clients to understand that more shiny doesn't necessarily mean more sales

  8. SoloSK71

    Or maybe

    it is the new breed of app developers who seem to programs apps to be demented ET's on speed, phoning home every 5 seconds or so with my 'telemetry' that burns through data ...

  9. David Lawton

    I must be off the charts then as i have a 20GB month usage allowance with EE and some months i run out!

    1. Fibbles

      Currently consuming about 35GB per month on Three with an unlimited internet allowance for £23. I do a fair bit of tethering though. Had to start using an app called EasyTether when they 'upgraded' my plan from unlimited tethering to a 6GB cap.

  10. Yugguy

    NO!!! DO NOT LOSE THE LOWER LIMITS

    I have wireless at home and at work. I am not a mindless facebook pavement drone, shuffling forward zombie-like as I injest the latest utter drivel. My monthly data usage is never more than 200Mb, even with 4G activated.

    I want the lower limit, it gives me a nice cheap monthly tariff.

  11. jzl

    I'd like a plan which averaged out over a few months or a year. Most months, I don't use much data, but occasionally I use a whole load.

    I can't be the only one, right?

    1. Humpty McNumpty

      Prepaid

      So go prepaid instead and plan a little. Long term it is quite hard to get true value from a phone contract,few of us have usage patterns that fixed and repeatable so we buy data and minutes we might need for those rare occasions. Buying your own phone and going prepay allows you to shop around for the handset you want unlocked meaning you can switch it out abroad, change providers when you please and sell it easily when you trade up. That said at the cheaper end of the scale prepay is less appealing than it used to be.

      1. jzl

        Re: Prepaid

        I already buy my phone outright and use SIM only deals. I can't be bothered with pre-pay - remembering to top up is a faff and paying attention to my phone expenses each month isn't worth the aggro, so I just have an all-you-can eat plan and don't worry about it.

  12. Artaxerxes

    Go for GiffGaff for your provider, best value for money packages I've found.

  13. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Lucky

    "I'd feel more sympathy if I wasn't just shunted to a new tariff. I was on the old £6.90 a month (200mins, 5000txts, 500mb"

    Lucky!!!! In the US carriers focus on big, costly bundles, and part of that is pricing unbundled plans so high they are "almost as much as that bundled plan anyway."

    Minimum tarriff on Verizon Wireless last I checked was like $30 a month for 300 minutes (and I think *zero* texts, 10 cents apiece) -- this plan is unadvertisd, normal minimum is $40 for 450 minutes; and another $15 for like 500MB data (although you can get 2GB for $30). No, you cannot just get the data with no voice minutes. Oh and another $10 or so for texts. But I'm not sure, they're pushing these shared plans hard now where you have a high base price but $10 per additional phone; if that's all that's available now you might be out like $70 a month.

    IWireless (a regional proivder) has a lot better deal overall ($50 for unlimited everything), but again, it doesn't cut down like it "should"; it's like $30 for the lowest plan (which is something like 500MB, 500 minutes, 500 texts.)

  14. Mark Simon

    Waste of Bandwidth

    How much of this data is due to the ad networks, not only on web pages, but also on add-supported apps? How much more of the data is squandered on loading muscle-bound libraries designed to crack a walnut with a pile driver? And, of course, poor so-called responsive design which serves up oversized images and videos just in case?

    I’ve recently switched to Vodafone (in Australia) allowing me to share data allowances on all devices. Until last week I had 19Gb available!

  15. hoola

    Coverage

    What would be even more interesting is a geographical map of where the data was being used and the number of connections. This is going to be concentrated in all the usual city centre, southern areas that actually have a usable 4G service.

    The lunacy is that the regulator permits claims of 97% or 98% coverage just because there is a microscopic signal that almost works on voice and GPRS that falls over just negotiating the connection.

    We now have the rush to roll out 5G, in all the places where there is currently acceptable 4G.

  16. Zmodem

    i burned 20gb or more last month on EE, but it downloads at 5-700kbs, so a 10gb evil within patch seemed fair

    it probably gave them a new advert for being stable too

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