There are two types of smartphone users in America. Some folks try to manage their YouTube streaming and Instagram uploads, jumping on Wi-Fi when possible, and being careful to come right up to the edge of their data cap without going over. The others know they can't stay under the cap and pay for unlimited high-speed data so they don't even have to think about it.
But most us don't know exactly how much data we use each month, how we compare to others around the world, or even how much our data costs relative to users in other countries.
So let's take a look.
This is how much data you're using
On average, U.S. wireless customers consume 1.8 GB of cellular data every month. That's according to Mobidia, which analyzes data from hundreds of thousands of wireless subscribers.
Video eats up most of that data -- whether by video calls or streaming -- and shows no signs of slowing. According to Cisco Systems, mobile data traffic is expected to increase eightfold by 2018.
When Wi-Fi is factored in, the amount of data obviously jumps even higher. Android users consumer 6.8 GB of Wi-Fi data every month, while Apple iPhone users use an amazing 8.9 GB on Wi-Fi connections.
Surprisingly, despite AT&T (NYSE:T) having the second-best network in the country and Sprint (NYSE:S) taking the No. 4 spot , Sprint users actually eat up more LTE data per month. In fact, Sprint and T-Mobile (NASDAQ:TMUS) subscribers use more total data (Wi-Fi and cellular combined) per month than AT&T or Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) customers.
What's not surprising is that Americans are using much more data than ever before. In 2012, average data usage was just 450 MB per month, according to Nielsen.
We're also spending a premium for this ever-expanding data appetite.
How much we spend for data
Citing research from Ookla, The Verge wrote last year that Verizon charges about $4.05 per Mbps (the measurement of speed for wireless connections), while carriers in Europe might charge up to 45% less than that.
The article's author, Dante D'Orazio wrote, "Of all the major international carriers we compared, every one of them except Japan's NTT Docomo were about half as expensive as Verizon." (bold mine)
An August Bloomberg View post said essentially the same thing, and added that U.S. wireless carriers bring in some plump margins because of those high prices. Writer Leonid Bershidsky noted that Verizon's gross margin was 61.6%, compared to Vodafone's 27%.
Bershidsky said some of the higher U.S. prices result from carriers having a lot of ground to cover for network connections, and because Americans use more data than most users in other countries (besides Japan). That's true, especially when you consider the United States' access to LTE connections.
Research from the American Enterprise Institute suggests the number of Americans using LTE connections makes our average speeds slower than speeds in other parts of the world, but that still doesn't account for the wide margins companies Verizon and its peers enjoy.
So while U.S. carriers are seemingly in the middle of ongoing price wars, it appears we're all still overpaying for that 1.8 GB of data.
Chris Neiger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Cisco Systems, and Verizon Communications. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.