We know the extent to which mobile carriers indirectly benefit from the heavy hidden-autoplay-video-laden mobile web pages we’re constantly subjected to, but did you know they’re either (willfully of not) misrepresenting how bad it is on their own marketing and consumer websites?
Carriers continue to create hard-to-compare/oddly-tiered mobile data plans. But in addition is the incredible difficulty of figuring out how much data your phone could be burning through as you navigate the mobile web.
While you’re trying to (X) out of that popup ad on your mobile phone, lots of unwanted stuff
might be is loading in the background without your knowledge.
If you’ve tried to check your phone’s mobile data usage, you’ve probably run into issues like: delays in reporting (Verizon always has an 8–9 hour delay for me), non-specific/unintuitive classifications or categories, huge disclaimers like “Data Utilization does not reflect actual amounts of data used and does not match billed usage for data roaming, delayed usage and similar billing charges” [Verizon] — which calls into question what the hell this information is (it gets worse, see below), and along with the delay, may make it useless (but we can’t know for sure).
It seems some of the mobile carrier billing infrastructure is old and creaky, so I figured (hoped!) perhaps mobile carriers would give their consumers tools to help them figure this stuff out ahead of time. In my quest for understanding, I headed over to the carriers’ websites.
All the major carriers are spinning a less-than-truthful story (via their data calculators) about how much bandwidth mobile web pages use. We’d think they themselves are the best source of data on this issue, but apparently not ….
Mobile carriers think mobile web pages are between 0.17 and 0.92 megabytes in size. This wasn’t even true 6 years ago.
The industry-standard for webpage size is HTTParchive, which has been tracking it since late 2010. Their January 2016 average page size figure is 2,225Kb, or 2.17Mb (megabytes=1024 to a Kb). That means that T-Mobile overstated this figure by 57%, Sprint by 76%, Verizon 82% and US Cellular by 92%. The average web page today loads more in just fonts and stylesheets than US Cellular thinks constitutes a full page.
That’s 77% smaller than reality, on average. It would have to be back in 2010, for ANY of these carriers be close to a correct number, back then.
AT&T did a different kind of estimate based on the amount of time you spend on web pages in a month — which rate works out to be about 15 megabytes per hour. Our own tests routinely show many mobile web pages reaching 15–20 megabytes within a few minutes of activity (or 38Mb in under 3 minutes here!).
Ironically, on a fast connection, you may not even notice the difference between a 10Mb hidden-video mobile web page and a 2Mb just-lots-of-images page.
At least not until your mobile bill shows up.
A version of this first appeared on Medium on February 7, 2016 here.