50% of all mobile data is consumed by 6% of users

There is a huge discrepancy in mobile data usage among smartphone owners, as millions of people use less than 1 MB per month while others gobble it up to no end.

Nielsen released details of a report this week that studied tens of thousands of mobile phone bills to examine the amount of data used by the average smartphone owner.

The most immediate and striking statistic is that more than one-third of smartphone customers have not even signed up for a data plan. Can you imagine buying an Android phone and never even checking your e-mail on it?

Even for those who have a plan, the majority are paying for a service that they’re not even really using. “About 20 million current smartphone users are hardly using data,” said Nielsen SVP Roger Entner in an Information Week story.

Entner said that the 6% of smartphone owners who use the most mobile data are using 50% of all mobile data.

In aggregate, though, people are using more mobile data than they were a year ago. A lot more. Average per-user data usage went from around 90 MB per month in the first quarter of 2009 to nearly 300 MB in 2010. That’s a 230% jump.

And that’s why there is concern around mobile carriers to the cost of offering unlimited data plans. AT&T was the first major operator to cease its unlimited plan and put a 5 GB cap on its standard plan (with usage costs incurring for any usage above that).