The iPhone, despite the recent unwanted attention, is still arguably the most desirable smartphone in the world. But in the United States, the mobile carrier the iPhone is exclusive to, AT&T, is far from the most popular carrier.

It has been hampered by complaints about network quality, and while many argue that AT&T simply needs to invest more in its network, others argue that AT&T is the victim of the iPhone.

That’s because the iPhone, with all of its features and the wide range of available applications, has done just what Apple would want it do to: it has encouraged its owners to consumer lots and lots of content. According to a study conducted for Consumer Reports earlier this year, AT&T iPhone owners consume five times as much data as Blackberry owners, and double the data that owners of other smartphones consume. The implication: the iPhone has been a little bit too successful; iPhone owners take greater advantage of the phone’s capabilities and that puts a strain on AT&T’s network.

To address this, AT&T recently changed its data packages to encourage the biggest data hogs to consume less, or to pay for what they use. That, of course, wasn’t a popular move, but it may have been a necessary one.

The reality is that bandwidth is always a finite resource, especially in a mobile network. And even though other carriers in the United States don’t (yet?) have the iPhone, it looks as if the next generation of iPhone competitors may be just as successful at encouraging their owners to consume, consume, consume.

According to Verizon’s Jennifer Byrne, “On Droid X, we’re seeing something like 5x the data usage of any other device.” Droid X, of course, is a new Android-based smartphone produced by Motorola that received good reviews when it debuted.

While the number of iPhone owners far exceeds the number of Droid X owners, Droid X data usage could give Verizon a slightly better understanding of the challenges AT&T has faced with the iPhone, and preview of what it can expect if it ever gets to offer the iPhone to its customers. For that reason, some expect that Verizon, like AT&T, will implement a tiered pricing structure, something that it has already rumored to be announcing later this month.

More broadly, Droid X data consumption hints that:

  • Consumers continue to get more and more comfortable consuming content on mobile devices.
  • The next generation of smartphones, many of them Android-based, will rival the iPhone in terms of how much they encourage their owners to consume content, and how easy they make it.

These two trends are certainly good for mobile innovation, but will also create some interesting challenges for mobile carriers.

Photo credit: robertnelson via Flickr.