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McClatchy-Tribune  08/30/2014 12:01 AM ET
State Fairgoers eat up data, along with hot dogs and cheese curds [Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn. :: ]

Aug. 30--All those State Fair photos and videos of cute farm animals and foods on a stick add up.

Minnesota's four biggest cell-phone carriers report that wireless-data use by smartphone-packing Fair attendees is up this year compared with data usage during the 2013 State Fair -- way, way up.

This trend has largely been fueled by explosive use of mobile-centric social apps such as Instagram and Snapchat that are all the rage for sharing photos and videos. It also points to the rapid year-on-year changes in the way people are using data and technology.

Use of the official State Fair apps eats up big hunks of data, too, and check-in services such as Yelp and Foursquare's Swarm also have contributed to this trend.

Dawn Messerly of southeast Minneapolis is among fairgoers chewing through increased amounts of data this year.

At the State Fair last year, Messerly mainly just used her phone for texting. This came in handy when she and her two daughters split up on the fairgrounds and zapped messages back and forth, but it didn't consume a ton of data.

This year, Messerly has gone crazy with Instagram and Snapchat, which she began using recently when her daughters, 14-year-old Fiona and 19-year-old Caitlin, turned her on to them.

"I have video on Instagram of a mother sheep with her three babies," she said. "They are so darn cute."

Messerly and her girls often split up so Mom can sit back with a beer and people-watch while the girls go get henna tattoos. That's when their photo and video sharing ramps up as they keep each other apprised of their adventures.

"We exchange photos via Snapchat," she said.

The degree to which any particular or service or app has contributed to the data-usage spike is unclear, but the overall trend isn't.

Verizon Wireless said data usage by its Fair-wandering subscribers was up 156 percent during the first four days of the event, compared with the same period in 2013.

AT&T said its data usage was up 40 percent during the Fair's first four days compared to the same period last year. Users chewed through about 2 terabytes, or 2,000 gigabytes, of data, which would account for 5.7 million social-media posts with pictures.

By comparison, AT&T notes that attendees at the recent Major League Baseball All-Star Game used up about 626 gigabytes of data during the one-day event, or about 1.7 million social-media posts with pictures.

A week into the Fair, AT&T data usage at the Fair eclipsed 3.4 terabytes, representing a 55 percent increase over the same time period last year, according to the carrier.

Sprint, which not long ago officially rolled out high-speed Long Term Evolution wireless-data service in the Twin Cities to better compete with its three rivals, said it has logged a 500 percent spike in data usage at the Fair compared to last year.

T-Mobile said it saw a 172 percent increase in data use on the first Saturday of the Fair, compared with the first Saturday of the 2013 Fair. And for the first four days of the Fair, it saw a 184 percent increase in data usage compared to the same 2013 period.

Meanwhile, the Fair's own app has been downloaded tens of thousands of times. The Google Android version had been downloaded nearly 40,000 times as of Friday, and the Apple iOS version had been downloaded more than 20,000 times.

The Fair app, once installed, is designed to mostly work without a wireless connection, but it periodically downloads database updates so its Fair activity and venue listings are up to date. Such updates can occur one or more times a day. Cumulatively, the fair has recorded 466,729 such updates as of 2:30 p.m. Friday.

The Swarm app, with which users "check in" at restaurants and other venues, gets a workout at the Fair because "most booths have their own (app-registered) locations," said Christopher Lower of the Twin Cities-based Sterling Cross Group public-relations agency, which specializes in culinary-related clients.

"All those #foodporn photos and check-ins" can account for a lot of data usage, he said.

Google's Ingress, a "massively multiplayer online role-playing game," or MMORPG, is heavily reliant on smartphone owners using their devices' GPS to locate geographical locations; it sees major use at the Fair, according to game devotee Steve Boland of St. Paul.

"The game is played by a constant data connection to servers updating which side owns 'portals' (landmarks, works of art, etc) in the real world," Boland said. "I regularly go through maybe 100 to 200 megabytes a month, but I mostly play in the neighborhood."

"Put me at the Fair" -- with its high concentration of portals, he said -- and "I'll probably go through that in a couple of days."

Find Julio Ojeda-Zapata at ojezap.com.

 

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