In their latest quarterly reports, U.S. telecom giants Verizon Wireless and AT&T both highlighted that mobile data revenues had climbed to about one-third of overall wireless revenue.
Mobile research firm Chetan Sharma points out in a new report that Verizon hit a more significant milestone in the first quarter -- edging past decades-long leader NTT DoCoMo to become the biggest wireless operator by data revenues at $4.5 billion. U.S. wireless data revenues overall increased 22% to $12.5 billion from a year ago, and 5% since the fourth quarter.
"The U.S. has become ground zero for mobile broadband consumption and data traffic management evolution. While it lags Japan and Korea in 3G penetration by a distance, due to higher penetration of smartphones and data cards, the consumption is much higher than its Asian counterparts," stated Chetan Sharma's latest mobile data report.
Verizon and AT&T have each benefited from the growing popularity of so-called connected mobile devices from tablet computers to e-readers to GPS gadgets. Both companies added more customers with non-phone devices than postpaid, or contract, subscribers in the most recent quarter. And facing saturation in the postpaid business, carriers have increasingly turned to alternative sources of sales growth including connected devices, and the prepaid and enterprise markets.
In that vein, AT&T Monday announced a new unit to speed up development of mobile applications for businesses and other organizations.
Separately, Sprint's growing push into the prepaid arena, with the addition of a fourth no-contract brand for customers who spend less than $30 a month on wireless services, raises the question of whether other carriers will take steps to keep up with Sprint or continue to focus on the more lucrative contract business. Independent prepaid companies like Leap Wireless and Metro PCS loom as possible acquisition targets for the major carriers.
Widening adoption of mobile data services by consumers has also added to broader concerns about privacy in the online world. New privacy legislation introduced by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), would, among other things, require explicit opt-in permission for collecting precise geolocation data on users. Chetan Sharma chimes in on the topic, suggesting that the wireless industry offers a simple, easy-to-understand set of privacy options.
"If people are really serious about tackling privacy, OEMs and carriers should build a physical/soft privacy button on the device with 3-5 levels (just like for the ringer volume) that allows users to open/close privacy across all applications and services with the touch of a button," advises the report. "All apps and services should adhere to the principle via APIs."
Finding consensus among handset makers, carriers, developers, ad networks and other companies that make up the mobile ecosystem, however, would be anything but simple. Still, efforts to give consumers more control over their information on mobile phones are starting to take shape.
To that end, mobile analytics firm Flurry last week unveiled a new set of privacy rules for app developers that use its software tools to track usage. They include requiring features in apps such as an opt-out switch as well as a button to delete any user data linked to a specific device.