Verizon Wireless, Sprint Carry More Data Traffic than AT&T

AT&T Inc. has become, by its own talking points, the poster child for the mobile data explosion. But guess what? Both Verizon Wireless and Sprint-Nextel Corp. carried more data traffic in 2009.

According to ABI Research, customers of these two operators generated 63 percent of the U.S. market’s mobile network data traffic last year.

It’s the 3G laptop modem factor: “Interestingly, AT&T had the most activated data devices in 2009,” says practice director Dan Shey. “But it is laptop mobile data connections that have the most impact on operator data traffic levels. Mobile broadband laptop connections to Verizon and Sprint each far exceed AT&T’s laptop connections.”

A high proportion of Sprint’s and Verizon’s laptop connections are made to lower data-consuming business customers, and the two have expansive 3G coverage areas, which helps moderate their network traffic loads across any cell sector, he noted.

Shey quips that operators can glean two different messages from these results. “Verizon Wireless and Sprint can claim that data network coverage is as important as data network speed. But AT&T can claim that it makes the most money per MB!”

Despite AT&T’s big emerging-devices push, ABI anticipates that Verizon will maintain the top data traffic position over the next five years. But AT&T’s share of mobile data traffic will increase, and by 2012 AT&T will take the No. 2 position. The final three spots for top mobile data traffic levels will be held by Sprint, T-Mobile and then all other operators. However, even though operator traffic distribution share will change, nearly all operators will see mobile data traffic levels increase eightfold from 2010 through 2014.

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