UK mobile networks have begun offering data caps of 20GB or more to their customers in response to a rising demand for music and video streaming services.

This week Three announced a new 30GB tariff, following a trend that saw both Vodafone and O2 heavily promote their tariffs with 20GB or more data last month.

Meanwhile, EE has taken a different tack to target data-heavy users, in marketing themselves as offering the fastest mobile data speeds, which they claim can be 50% faster than the other networks.

Each company looking to position themselves as the network for the future as people embrace streaming services such as Spotify and Netflix, where users can quickly consume gigabytes of data by watching a few episodes of their favourite TV show or streaming music in high definition.

According to the latest Ofcom report, the British public now spend almost twice as long online with our smartphones than on laptops and personal computers, and those with 4G connections do everything more – from shopping, to watching videos, to sharing photos. All of this requires ever more data.

The fight for the data-hungry user reflects a change in approach from the mobile networks, with each network previously seeing large data users as an expensive rarity. Now the average user is consuming far more data each month than even a couple of years ago, and each network’s new plans are a response to this change in reality.

Competition from mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) such as GiffGaff and Virgin, which piggyback on the infrastructure of the “Big Four”, has created a very competitive market for low usage subscribers. The UK launch of FreedomPop, which offers subscribers 200 minutes, 200 texts, and 200MB of data for free each month, has only increased this competition and the Big Four have needed to find a way to differentiate themselves and justify their higher prices – in large data caps they may have found it.

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