Mobile Milestone: Data Surpasses Voice Traffic

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Mobile data bits traveling around the world outnumbered voice traffic for the first time during December of 2009, according to wireless equipment vendor Ericsson. Worryingly, that data traffic was generated by an estimated 400 million smartphones set against 4.6 billion mobile subscribers making voice calls. What happens when everyone has a smartphone?

Ericsson (s eric) measured traffic across networks around the world and discovered that once data traffic surpassed 140,000 terabytes per month, those bytes outnumbered the traffic generated by voice calls. Data traffic grew 280 percent during each of the last two years, and Ericsson expects it to double annually over the next five (see Cisco’s (s csco) estimates here). Already traffic in 3G networks has surpassed that of 2G networks. Note that in India and China, the world’s two most populous countries, 3G networks are only now coming online or have yet to do so.

Ericsson credits/blames social networking as accounting for “a large percentage of mobile data traffic” consumption, although video seems to consume many more bytes. Ericsson notes that 200 mobile operators in 60 countries are deploying and promoting the social networking site’s mobile products, with over 100 million active users accessing Facebook through their mobile devices. But Facebook is more an example of why we want always-on, always accessible broadband (we talk to our friends now, not merely via voice, but with pictures, texts and status updates) than it is the cause of the data deluge.

Here’s a video from Ericsson talking yesterday about this historic moment (of three months ago):

Related GigaOM Pro research: Metered Mobile Data Is Coming and Here’s How (sub req’d)

20 Comments

Paul Calento

There seems to be two implications: #1 – the need for more capacity; #2 – more efficient applications, including when and how the use the cellular data network and/or WiFi. There’s been a lot of criticism of Apple’s AppStore policies, but these restrictions could actually help.

Subhankar Ray

It may also mean..
1. We are using 3G USB data card to browse internet using netbook (not a smart phone). Data card also has a SIM.
2. Voice is more efficient :-)

Scoopster

Stacey wrote: “Worryingly, that data traffic was generated by an estimated 400 million smartphones set against 4.6 billion mobile subscribers making voice calls.”

I just read the source – it says “400 Million mobile broadband subscriptions” — Stacey, let’s not confuse our mobile data crunchers here.

Statistic of one: I use up to 200MB a day on my 3G stick and only ~300MB a month on my iPhone. Smartphones are likely not the source of most of that data usage.

Arunabh Das

Does the data metered in this calculation include pure data traffic or also VOIP data (which is basically voice converted to digital and transported over IP)? – Arunabh Das

Brian S Hall

Really interesting stats. Thanks.
There is no edge! The smartphone is the computer. And the next few years are set to be among the most interesting ever in consumer tech.

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