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Apps driving ‘data tsunami,’ as costs decline, Nielsen is reporting

by Howard Wolinsky

App-happy smartphone users are gobbling up data like Pac-Man on steroids.

Nielsen, the audience measurement firm, is reporting on a  “data tsunami…growing at an astounding pace.”

Don Kellogg, senior manager, Telecom Research & Insights, wrote in the blog NielsenWire that based on a monthly analysis for more than 65,000 cellphone users data use—especially those with users of Google’s (GOOG) Android devices and Apple’s (AAPL) iPhones and—is growing faster than ever.

Kellogg said monthly data use grew 89 percent to 435 Megabytes (MBs) in the first quarter this year over the same quarter the previous year.

“A look at the distribution of data consumption is even more shocking: data usage for the top 10 percent of smartphone users (90th percentile) is up 109 percent while the top 1 percent (99th percentile) has grown their usage by an astonishing 155 percent from 1.8GB in Q1 2010 to over 4.6GB in Q1 2011,” Nielsen reported.

Blame it on app-friendly Android and Apple operating systems, said Kellogg. The average Android user consumes 582MBs per month while the average iPhone user consumed 492MBs.

Kellogg said: “This has huge implications for carriers since the proportion of smartphone owners is also increasing dramatically.” Thirty-seven percent of mobile subscribers in the United States have smartphones.

Meanwhile, as usage has nearly doubled, Nielsen found that most users are paying the same for data as they did a year ago.

“The amount the average smartphone user pays per unit of data has dropped by nearly 50 percent in the last year, from 14 cents per megabyte (MB) to a mere 8 cents,” said Nielsen.