Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) certainly gets a lot of attention from consumers, but why are carriers so ga-ga over it? Surprisingly, it might be less about how popular the iPhone itself is with consumers and more about the direct benefits carriers receive from iPhone users. It could be all about the data, particularly for carriers which still cap users’ data plans.

Apple iPhone 5S gold

Apple iPhone users use more data

As it turns out, a study indicates that users of Apple’s iPhone use more data than users of other smartphones. CNET points to data from Actix, which measures communications from smartphone owners in North America and Europe.

The firm found that during 2013, the top three most-used phones were the iPhone 4S, the iPhone 5 and the iPhone 4. Of course can you guess what the fourth, fifth and sixth most-used phones were? They were all Samsung’s: the Galaxy S3, followed by the Galaxy S2 and then the Galaxy S4.

How Actix came up with the numbers

The ranking of the phones is based on how many people used their phones during a number of monitoring times each lasting one hour throughout the year in both Europe and North America. On average, there were 20,608 iPhone 4 users every hour, followed closely by the iPhone 5, with 20,539 users. The iPhone 4 had 17,880 users per hour, while the next-closest phone—the Samsung Galaxy S3—had fewer than 8,000 users an hour. The monitoring periods were spread out all through 2013, which is why the newer phones, like the iPhone 5S and 5C, aren’t toward the top of the list.

So even though Android phones outsell Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s iPhone globally according to statistics about market share, carriers really care more about who’s actually using their phones. This information from Actix shows which phones are using most of the network’s power. It also shows how different phones differ in the amounts of data they consume and also how often they check into the carrier’s network for calls and transmitting data.

What the data suggests

According to the statistics, newer phones appear to use more data, probably because those who bought them want to use their phones more and they are on networks which are faster and newer. Also they usually have screens with higher resolution than older phones, which would eat up more data. Looking at a per-person basis, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) users from one year use more data than the flagship Android phone from Samsung released that same year.

Also phones with larger screens seem to download more data, probably because they have higher resolution screens.