Verizon 3G Data Usage Taking Off from iPhone’s Lead

Apple’s iPhone may have made on-the-go data access commonplace for the average consumer, but now Verizon’s smartphone customers seem to be inching past them as 3G data use climbs. The data comes from a study conducted by cell phone bill service and tracking company, Validas, that underscores the quickly growing number of smartphone users in the United States.

According to the company’s report that includes data from over 20,000 consumer cell phone bills from January through May, 2010, Verizon customers burned through some 428MB of wireless data on average per month, compared to 338MB per month for iPhone users.

The study showed that Verizon’s heavy data users surpass iPhone users, as well. About 11 percent of Verizon’s smartphone customers use between 500MB and 1GB of data a month, while only about 5.6 percent of iPhone owners do the same.

Validas chose to focus on Verizon’s smartphone users as a whole and AT&T’s iPhone customers because the data curves between the two groups most closely matched, according to Ed Finegold, Validas’ Chief Analytics Officer. The company also chose to not include BlackBerry users in the study because the data compression techniques used by the RIM’s smartphones could skew down the overall results.

While Verizon customers may be using more 3G data than AT&T’s iPhone customers, it’s actually AT&T that has more users with data plans. 71.2 percent of AT&T’s customers are taking advantage of wireless data access, but only 43.9 percent of Verizon’s customers are wireless data users.

With the higher number of data users on AT&T’s network it seems that the over 3G usage figures should be higher, too. That discrepancy could come from a number of factors, according to Mr. Finegold, that can’t be gleaned from subscriber’s bills. Verizon’s smartphone users, for example could be more heavily slanted towards tech savvy power users while AT&T’s iPhone customer base might include more casual data users.

“The iPhone has more mass appeal,” Mr. Finegold told The Mac Observer. “Verizon may have more power users attracted to Droid phones.”

The usage figures could relate to cell signal reliability in certain areas, too, and iPhone owners might have more access to Wi-Fi hotspots — a data point that isn’t available in customer’s monthly statements. The perception that AT&T has poorer wireless coverage than other carriers could be pushing iPhone users to seek out Wi-Fi connections instead of relying on 3G more often, too.

Validas’ data shouldn’t, however, be used to suggest that Verizon is better prepared to handle 3G data users than AT&T. Instead, it indicates that the iPhone is an barometer of how consumers want to access information and interact with their portable devices, and now other smartphones — including Android OS-based devices like the Droid X — are following suit.

“The iPhone started a trend in wireless data usage,” Mr. Finegold said. “Now other manufacturers are catching up.”

The complete Validas report should be available in early September.