Commuting. It’s everyone’s least favourite part of the day. Whether you’re a driver stuck in traffic or a cyclist trying to avoid it, most people dread the start and end to their working day.

Mobile devices have added some levity for those using public transport, and now the sight of a carriage full of silent workers glued to their phones is an everyday occurrence. For many, a work-assigned smartphone provides the perfect distraction to pass the time while sat in their seat – if they can grab one, that is.
Many transit systems around the world have provided free WiFi services in stations across the network, including in places like London and New York. This has helped employees stay connected to services like email, extending the working day and making the most of those wasted minutes spent on travel – crucially, at no cost to the payer of the mobile data bills.
A number of cities are taking this one step further. Transport for London (TfL) recently announced the introduction of a 4G network on all of its lines, following a successful trial on the Waterloo & City Line. This follows similar programs in places like Melbourne and Chicago, and surely it will be a matter of time until every major transit system offers its users a persistent mobile data connection.

The price of connectivity

While this may be a boon for productivity, it could mean rising data usage and subsequent rising data costs. For businesses, this is certainly something well worth thinking about. In TfL’s announcement, Ker Anderson, Vodafone UK’s Head of the London mobile network revealed that  mobile data traffic has increased by around 300 per cent in London over the past two years. Initiatives like this will do nothing to slow down this rampant growth.
There are no official statistics on the average commuter journey in London for the Underground specifically, though TfL has shared that the average trip is around 47 minutes. That’s the time it takes this author to reach Wandera’s London HQ each morning too, as it happens.
So with users switching from sporadic and patchy WiFi connections each morning to more reliable, continuous 4G networks, what will the consequence be for businesses?
Typical data usage per tube journey
Understanding what this upgrade will represent in costs to the enterprise is not so simple. Employees do all kinds of things on their work devices, from checking emails to browsing social media platforms. By analyzing patterns from across the hundreds of thousands of devices protected by Wandera’s mobile security solution, reliable estimates on data consumption can be obtained for different kinds of apps.

App Estimated maximum data usage per commuter journey
Instagram 32MB
Fortnite 52MB
Netflix 447MB

Instagram, the picture-focused social network, typically uses about 32MB of data for a 47 minute long session. This will naturally change based on factor such as whether the user was uploading images, or how quickly they scrolled through their feeds, but these figures provide a good approximation of data usage behaviours for social media.
Fortnite, the battle royale game enjoying a huge amount of popularity at the moment, burns through data a little more quickly (as discussed in this post), consuming just over 50MB over a 47 minute play session. The data-hungry Netflix can vary wildly, with video quality settings meaning one hour of usage can consume anywhere between 250MB and 1GB. Wandera data suggests that, on average, 447MB is used in a typical 47 minute session – the exact length of an average episode of Breaking Bad, conveniently. Remember to, that employees have to get home again too – meaning you can theoretically double these numbers to get a daily feel for the consumption rise that might be expected once 4G goes live.
If these figures don’t sound too scary, then consider the fact that most people work for at least 20 days a month. These 47 minutes of usage can quickly spiral into much more concerning numbers.

App Estimated maximum commuting data usage per month
Instagram 1.4GB
Fortnite 2.2GB
Netflix 18.8GB

Now, clearly it’s unlikely that employees will watch a full episode of their favourite TV show twice a day for 22 days a month, but it remains an important consideration nonetheless. Even at a more conservative estimate of 10 minutes per journey of light email and social media usage using 4G, users will face an average increase of 400MB in data usage per month.
To most businesses, this represents a significant growth on current data plans, or could collectively push data consumption beyond pool limits. This will often mean expensive overage fees, or a long term need to renegotiate contracts with the network operator.
Organizations are advised to implement usage policies, keeping employee device usage focused on productivity and acceptable levels of data consumption. Using Wandera, administrators can set caps and use powerful controls to enforce acceptable usage policies, balancing user experience and productivity with a secure and predictable way to manage rising data costs.