Photograph by Adam Berry — Getty Images
By Aaron Pressman
May 23, 2016

Wireless subscribers used almost 10 trillion megabytes of data last year, more than double what they consumed in 2014, as the insatiable appetite for checking Facebook updates, watching YouTube videos, and uploading Snapchat stories continued to fuel growth.

There were also 228 million smartphones in use by the end of 2015, up 10% from a year earlier, CTIA, the wireless industry trade group, said in its annual survey report released on Monday. Including all kinds of phones and other devices like tablets, the industry counted 378 million active devices at year-end, up 6% from 2014.

Data traffic growth dramatically outpaced increases in other wireless services, the group reported. Minutes of talking increased 17% to 2.8 trillion minutes and the number of text and MMS messages grew less than 2% to 2.1 trillion. Data traffic increased 138% to 9.6 trillion megabytes, or the equivalent of streaming 59,219 videos every minute.

Even with the massive growth in usage, Americans don’t always end up using all the data they pay for, according to some studies. One review of wireless bills estimated that 85% of consumers spent more than necessary for data plans and left unused 1.6 GB per month on average.

The CTIA survey data comes as the industry is fighting federal net neutrality rules that require wireless carriers to treat data traffic equally, limiting their ability to charge major Internet sites and services for reaching customers. A decision on the legality of the rules is expected any day from the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. At the same time, the industry is expected to spend $30 billion or more on new spectrum licenses at an upcoming auction to help relieve network congestion in the most populated areas.

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Industrywide wireless revenue increased only 2% to $192 billion in 2015, the group said.

Almost half of all U.S. households rely solely on mobile phones and have cancelled their landlines, the group said. Wireless-only households exceeded 48% at the end of the year, up from just 8% ten years ago.

The industry continued to blanket the countryside with cell towers, with the number of cell sites reaching almost 308,000 at the end of the year, up 3% from the year before.

CTIA members represent 97% of the industry, including all four of the largest mobile companies, AT&T (t), Verizon Communications (vz), T-Mobile (tmus), and Sprint (s).

 

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