This is how mobile data consumption is growing after the arrival of unlimited data to Vodafone: 5G will be vital

The main telephony operators have presented their financial results over the last few weeks, which in addition to disclosing the evolution of their income, other interesting data can also be extracted, such as the evolution in the deployment of fiber networks that we have updated , or other curiosities such as the remarkable increase in mobile data that has led to the arrival of unlimited data to Vodafone.

A year and a half after Vodafone began to focus its offer on unlimited data rates, the impact that its arrival has had on users’ consumption habits represents a new record in data consumption that has amounted to a total of 341,386 TB last quarter.

Unfortunately, neither Movistar, nor Orange nor MásMóvil offer details about the data consumption supported by their mobile networks, so we can only be guided by the information provided by Vodafone.

Mobile data consumption has increased more than 74% in the last year

Vodafone welcomed its unlimited rates in July 2019 as an option, and it was not until November 2020 when it has migrated its customers with old rates to unlimited data, so the increase in users with unlimited would be more or less gradual during the first year.

During the last few quarters, the increase in data consumption has turned out to be notably higher, although it was especially striking in the period corresponding to the months of July, August and September 2020, when Vodafone’s summer promotion gave unlimited gigs to all contract customers.

The quarter that traditionally supports a greater increase in mobile data, came this 2020 with the added pressure of the carelessness of users to spend all the data they wanted. It was a promotion that would put to test operator networks and it would allow you to have a better perspective of the most intensive use of the network.

In total, mobile networks supported 341,386 TB during the summer, compared to 195,906 TB a year earlier, when unlimited data had only been adopted on a voluntary basis. If we compare with the summer 2018, when the flat rate of gigabytes had not even arrived, the increase in data has been close to doubling and represented a consumption overload of 91.86%.

The result of supporting massively unlimited data in the summer of 2020 has been an increase in consumption of 74.26% in the last year.

To get a more « earthy » idea, with measures we are more used to, we have divided the number of total teras by the customers the operator had at that time, which gives us a average consumption of gigs made by users during the quarter. Thus, we went from 12.69 GB in September 2018, to 14.43 GB in September 2019 and 25.74 GB in September 2020. It does not seem unreasonable to think that 60 GB can be reached in September 2021.

5G will be the salvation to support the exponential increase in data

As observed in the graph, the data increase is being exponential. And that more and more users have unlimited data (or high volumes of gigabytes) that makes them get used to consuming without restrictions, will make the network load more and more noticeable.

The 5G NSA that operators are currently deploying, in addition to a currently not very necessary, higher speed for users, means greater efficiency of mobile networks, which allows operators to many more users can connect without the service being degraded quickly.

This reason will be, perhaps, the best guarantee that we have at the moment that the operators will bet on a rapid deployment of 5G when they have spectrum in the 700 MHz band, if they don’t want the majority adoption of unlimited data rates to become a serious problem in the medium term.

But for now, what we know is that operators have warned of a possible slowdown in the deployment of 5G if the Next spectrum auction becomes a drag, as advanced in the General State Budget Project, which plans to raise 2,100 million euros, compared to the range of between 1,000 and 1,500 million euros previously estimated.

Will 5G arrive in time to save networks from saturation?