A few big data users slow us all down

A new study says that 1 percent of smartphone users use up half the available bandwidth. One major data-hogger is Siri, the digital assistant on the iPhone 4S.

Kai Ryssdal: So I finally got a smartphone, like six months ago. Held out for a long time 'cause I knew what would happen: I'd be on it all the time -- texting, emailing, web-browsing, sucking up data like there's no tomorrow.

I was right. That's exactly what happened. And there's a study out today that says that people who're even worse than me, jamming up the bandwidth for everyone else.

From New York, Sally Herships has more.


Sally Herships: Isn’t it just too bad when some people spoil it for the rest of us? Wireless capacity is a huge problem and just 1 percent of users are hogging more than half of it.

Kevin Werbach: I like to say that wireless capacity is the oil of the 21st century.

That’s Wharton professor Kevin Werbach. He says there are over five billion mobile phone users in the world and we need more bandwidth. He called me from his cell phone.

Werbach: Voice communication, like we’re doing right now, actually doesn’t use that much capacity. Data and video uses a whole lot more.

Arieso,  the company that conducted the new study, says in terms of data-hogging smartphones, the worst of all is the iPhone 4S. You know, the one with the digital assistant.

Herships: Siri, who uses more bandwidth than you?

Siri: Sorry Sally, something’s gone wrong. Can you try that again?

Let me help you. Those who have the iPhone featuring you, Siri, can suck up three times as much data as they would without you.

But we can’t blame it all on Siri. Laptop users with wireless cards are even hungrier for data than smartphone users -- but there are a lot fewer of them. So how will phone companies react? Some of us who’ve had our plans have unlimited data plans. But for new customers...

Jeff Kagan: That’s pretty much gone.

That’s tech analyst Jeff Kagan.  He says there is more spectrum out there, but it’s to be gobbled up by big companies, which would mean less competition and higher prices for consumers.

Herships: So, Siri, what should we do about these people who make things more expensive for the rest of us?

Siri: I don't understand what you mean by 'So, Siri, what should we do about these people who make things more expensive for the rest of us?'

In New York, I’m Sally Herships for Marketplace.

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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