Rapid growth of mobile and wireless devices and usage is driving the amount of wireless data Americans transmit at an impressive rate. US wireless data traffic rose a whopping 123% between 2010 and 2011, to 866.7 billion megabytes (MBs) from 388 billion in 2010, according to CTIA–the Wireless Association’s latest semi-annual survey.

The number of active smartphones and wireless-enabled PDAs in the US surged 43%, to 111.5 million, compared to 2010’s 78.2 million. Almost 95% of these devices are capable of transmitting wireless data, highlighting the strains being placed on carriers’ wireless networks and their need for more spectrum, CTIA notes.

CTIA attempted to put the growth in US wireless data traffic in perspective by citing the hypothetical example of someone walking and listening to five, four-minute songs per mile:

  • In 2010 traffic was equivalent to that person walking 77,601,961,033 miles, or 3,116,419 times around the world for 2,952,890 years and listening to 97 billion songs;
  • In 2011 the same person would walk 173,364,056,929 miles, or the equivalent of 6,962,132 times around the world for 6,596,806 years and would listen to 216.7 billion songs.

Wireless carriers continue to invest significant amounts of capital in upgrading infrastructure, including the transition from 3G to 4G, as well as increasing the number of cell sites to improve capacity and coverage. They reported $25.3 billion in capital expenditures, up 2% from 2010, according to CTIA’s survey. Since 2001, that number totals $246 billion, which doesn’t include billions paid to the federal government to license wireless spectrum.

Regarding new cell tower construction, the FCC’s “shot clock” ruling that required local governments to make decisions on tower siting proposals within specific time frames helped spur growth in 2011, CTIA points out. 2011 saw the largest annual increase in operational cell sites with 283,385, an increase of 30,299 from 2010.

“Americans’ love for mobile products and services continue to grow. Our survey shows yet again that we are choosing to have more than one wireless device, including smartphones, tablets and e-readers, which is why the wireless penetration rate is almost 105 percent,” Steve Largent, CTIA president and CEO, commented. “Yet as the President, bipartisan members of Congress, FCC Chairman and Commissioners and other policymakers have repeatedly advocated, the U.S. wireless industry must have access to more spectrum so we can continue to improve our nation’s economy and meet our consumers’ demands. While the spectrum identified in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act was a great start, there is much more work to be done. We look forward to working with all of the interested parties to quickly bring more spectrum to auction so our members may purchase it, continue to invest and create jobs and ensure wireless U.S. consumers remain enjoying the world’s best wireless products and services.”

Other highlights of CTIA’s annual 2011 survey include:

  • Wireless subscriber connections: 331.6 million (104.6 percent penetration); Dec. 2010: 311 million (7 percent increase)
  • Wireless network data traffic: 866.7 billion megabytes; Dec. 2010: 388 billion megabytes (123 percent increase)
  •  Active smartphones and wireless-enabled PDAs: 111.5 million; Dec. 2010: 78.2 million (43 percent increase)
  •  Number of active data-capable devices: 295.1 million; Dec. 2010: 270.5 million (9 percent increase)
  •  Wireless-enabled tablets, laptops and modems: 20.2 million; Dec. 2010: 13.6 million (49 percent increase)
  •  Minutes of Use (MOU): 2.296 trillion; Dec. 2010: 2.241 trillion (2 percent increase)
  •  SMS sent and received: 2.304 trillion; Dec. 2010: 2.052 trillion (12 percent increase)
  •  MMS sent and received: 52.8 billion; Dec. 2010: 56.6 billion
  •  Average local monthly wireless bill (includes voice and data service): $47.00; Dec. 2010: $47.21


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