Japan's mobile data usage spikes after quake

21 Mar 2011

ITEM: An interesting factoid from the Tohoku earthquake/tsunami – mobile Internet traffic in Japan spiked significantly after the quake struck.

Mobile Internet traffic increased in volume relative to Internet traffic coming from PCs for two days following the disaster, ComScore reports:

In the wake of the disaster, with those who were stranded unable to use computers to get information or rely on landlines to communicate with loved ones, mobile media use in Japan saw an increase which deviates even from baseline weekend usage patterns.

Reportedly, much of that mobile traffic was via social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Japan’s Mixi, all of which have served as a vital channel for people to get messages to friends and family when voice networks failed them.

You’d expect that, of course, in a country where three-quarters of its user base consumes mobile media on a regular basis, according to ComScore.

But it should be mentioned for the sake of context that this isn't the same thing as saying mobile Internet is more reliable in times of disaster.

Japan's mobile operators did suffer network outages immediately after the quake and tsunami. The spike in mobile Internet traffic occurred the night of March 12, well over 24 hours after the quake, according to ComScore's chart, with an even larger spike 24 hours after that. And the chart doesn't break that down by prefecture – so it's likely that a lot of that traffic came from outside the hardest hit prefectures (Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima).

Still, it’s interesting that mobile Internet connectivity and social networking seem to be playing an increasingly important role in bridging the communications gap when traditional networks go down or become overloaded – but only to a point.

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