How much extra data will we use with 5G and what will it cost?

Posted by Michelle Lewis on November 11, 2020

5G-data-costs

We know that 5G will give us faster download speeds but how will that impact on our data usage and data costs?

 

About a week ago, Stephen Aravopoulos, the MD of MobileCorp, posted a video on LinkedIn that showed an iPhone 12 hitting almost 1300 Mbps download speed on the 5G network at Telstra HQ in Sydney.

Over 8,800 people have so far viewed the video with 300+ reactions, however one comment caught our eye.

It started an office debate...

telstra HQ

LinkedIn Data comment

 

The I.T. team at MobileCorp, of course, wanted to check the numbers.

First off they checked out Telstra's 5G data plans. For consumers Telstra's Extra Large 5G plan has a 180 GB data allowance. For business users, Telstra has a data only Large plan providing 200GB per month. Enterprise 5G users on Telstra Adaptive Mobility plans have up to 120GB that can be shared across users.

The verdict (after some Excel spreadsheet machinations) was:

Phill M speed download calculation

 

Being mathematically challenged myself, I recommend this calculator from Omnicalculator.com

5g omnicalculator

 

But is this relevant in the real world? Would we really use up all our monthly data in 20 minutes?

 

Australian 5G users on average are downloading 1.7x data

What we know, thanks to Opensignal, is that during September 2020, 5G smartphone users on average consumed between 1.7 and 2.7 times more mobile data than 4G users, across six leading 5G countries.

Consumption was greatest in South Korea where smartphone users reached an average 38.1 GB of mobile data for the month. Australian smartphone users were at the lowest end of the range consuming 1.7 times the average 4G data usage.

data opensignal

 

Why is Australia at the lowest end of the data consumption range?

The United States and Australia were the only two countries to record a 5G to 4G users’ ratio below two — meaning 5G users in the US and Australia consumed less than double the amount of mobile data of 4G users. 

Overall, the total 5G data consumption for the month, in Australia, averaged 16.3GB data usage, compared to 9.4GB for 4G.

There are three main reasons why the 5G data usage is lower in Australia than other leading 5G nations:

  • the limited availability of 5G coverage
  • the quality of the 4G network
  • the higher than average 4G monthly data consumption 

5G users in Australia, while taking advantage of 5G where it is available, are still mostly connected to 4G. Although expanding quickly, 5G coverage during the data collection period from 1 July to 28 September 2020, is still very patchy.  Opensignal found that users were only connected to 5G for 8.9 percent of their browsing time during those 3 months. 

At the same time, the download speed for 4G in Australia averages 43.1 Mbps, and the average 4G data consumption is 9.4 GB per month, which is second highest of the six countries surveyed.

The quality of the 4G network means Australians already consume more data than most other nations. This higher benchmark makes it more difficult to achieve a higher percentage increase which measuring 5G data consumption.

data consumption calculator 14GB

 

Will 5G data consumption cost us more ?

It is pretty obvious that we will ultimately consume more data with 5G, but whether or not it costs us more is debatable.

As my I.T. friends always like to say...it depends... 

And it will depend on:

  • the amount of time we spend connected to 5G
  • the type of data we choose to consume on 5G
  • the emergence of new 5G-enabled technologies which entice us to consume data
  • what the 5G network operators charge for 5G data

1. Time connected to 5G

As Australia’s operators continue to roll out their 5G networks, the amount of data consumed will become more influenced by 5G's increased speeds. Ultimately, we are going to consume more. However, it will be some time before Australians can spend the majority of their time connected to a 5G network.

Constant 5G access will depend upon where we live, and where we travel during the course of our day. 5G network operators are targeting densely populated locations, however the small cell technology of 5G will require the installation of thousands of 5G poles and that will take some time...probably a couple of years.

Even when 5G is pervasive, our lifestyles will influence how we connect. If we are spending our days working from home with a WiFi network, our 5G data consumption is not going to be as great as someone who is spending several hours commuting, or who is working 'on the road' consuming mobile data more constantly.

5G Action Plan for Australian Business

2. The type of 5G data we consume

The maths is in - if a user downloads content at 1300 Mbps for 20 minutes they will have downloaded 200 GB.

But who does that!

There is no content available for consumers that would equal that much data.

According to Netflix, streaming an HD movie of 2 hours duration would consume about 6 GB. So you would have to watch a High Definition movie every day for 30 continuous days to use up 200 GB.

Yes its possible but not many people would choose to do that on mobile data. Most movie watching is done at home on WiFi.

Some streaming services - like Youtube - offer HD quality video when the speeds and stability of connection is higher. But that is still a lot of hours of Youtube watching.

3. New 5G-enabled technologies

One thing is certain, 5G will enable a whole range of new technologies. Many of these have not yet been articulated or even conceived.

As the 5G future takes shape, there is the potential for applications and use cases, from connected smart devices and the IoT, to autonomous vehicles, smart cities, and connected factories. Add in the enormous possibilities for AI and AR.

How we interact with these new technologies as employees and as individuals is yet to be seen. These could inspire us to use more cellular data. As Cradlepoint says "The future is wireless." 

5g-retail-tech trend

 

4. 5G network operator costs

To assume that using additional data will end up costing users more, is to assume that the cost of data remains at least constant.

Yet the consumption of data has been increasing year on year, and at the same time, the price of data has been consistently decreasing year on year. 

So it may be that we will consume more data with 5G, but whether or not it ends up costing us more is debatable. 

data consumption pricing ACCC

Conclusion: More data ✅ Increased cost 🤷

All the data points to us using extra data when we move to 5G. Some of this increase will be due to the improved user experience and new technologies encouraging us to do more on mobile. Some will be due to the consumption of higher quality content like HD video or augmented reality apps.

It is too early to say how much more data we will use but even today, with an immature 5G network in place and 5G devices only accessing the 5G network on average 8.9 percent of the time, we are already consuming 1.7 times as much data.

Whether this additional data consumption will cost us more is debatable. There are so many variables that can impact on how and where we consume data. New technologies and use cases will emerge which will take advantage of the increased speed and reduced latency. Our lifestyles may keep us in WiFi networks more often. The cost of data may continue to decrease in line with our increased consumption.

One thing is certain, the world is going to be a different place when 5G is fully deployed.  

 

download 5G action plan for Australian business

Credit: The research referenced in this post was conducted by Opensignal, an independent global wireless network research company, with an active user base in Australia of 119,040 devices.

About MobileCorp

MobileCorp is an enterprise ICT solutions company with a mission to deliver our customers a communications technology edge. We provide Managed Mobility Services, Enterprise Mobility Management, Complex Data and IP Networks, and Unified Communication solutions. We have a proven track record providing managed services for Australian enterprise and business, and we are a Telstra Platinum Partner. 

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