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Why Data Caps Don’t Matter for Audio

Do consumers want radios built into their mobile devices so they can save on precious bandwidth?

In other words, does the use of audio streaming itself push bandwidth past available data caps? Is audio a “data hog”? Is there a consumer problem here?

I have previously argued that audio streams are, in fact, fairly economical. Even if you do all of your streaming audio consumption without the benefit of Wi-Fi, you’d need to stream about 4 hours on Pandora every day to hit a 2-gig monthly limit, and many mobile phone users have limits much higher than that while some have no limits whatsoever.

But let’s look at how bandwidth is actually used on mobile devices.

This chart, from a global Internet study by Sandvine, shows the composition of peak period Internet traffic in the U.S. Focus on the middle column representing downstream traffic:


This means that more than 40% of download traffic is associated with “real-time entertainment” – audio or video. This is the single largest bandwidth-suck. Note that social networking and even web browsing are much lower.

Now this chart shows what applications account for most of that bandwidth:


Again, focus on the middle column.

Not surprisingly, video applications are the primary bandwidth hogs. In fact, Pandora consumes only 4.3% of peak period mobile download bandwidth. .@Pandora_radio consumes only 4.3% of peak period mobile download bandwidth. Click To TweetIn other words, if I have a problem with bandwidth busting through my data cap and I’m a Pandora user, almost 96% of that bandwidth is being hogged by something other than Pandora!

Now there are surely other audio-centric platforms below the top 10, but the top ten applications alone consume almost 80% of mobile downstream bandwidth!

While there may or may not be valid arguments for radio to be activated on mobile phones, bandwidth anxiety is not one of them.

Indeed, the growing consumer appetite for video (YouTube’s percentage is actually up slightly year over year) will invariably drive the market towards higher or non-existent caps and higher prices to pay for the greater value consumers place on bandwidth.

Give the consumers what they want, not what you think they want.

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