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Another year, another doubling of data traffic (Blame video!)

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In its most recent Mobility Report, Ericsson(s eson) estimates that mobile data traffic doubled from the third quarter of last year. There’s no end in sight for data demand either: Ericsson estimates that between 2012 and 2018, demand for mobile data will increase twelve-fold. The two key drivers of such growth? Consumers continuing to adopt smartphones and the rising amount of online video consumption on the go.

We’ve previously noted that in the U.S. more than 50 percent of the population has a smartphone, so the growth opportunity for first-time smartphone buyers is actually declining. Sales of smartphones in other regions are on the rise, however, with smartphone sales accounting for 40 percent of all mobile phones sold in the last quarter according to Ericsson. The top activities on handsets are adding to the data demand: web browsing and video consumption comprise around 35 percent of all smartphone data usage. And already about half of all video consumption on a smartphone takes place outside the home on a mobile network.

Those usage figures rise higher on the larger displays of tablets. Ericsson says that 40 percent of all mobile data used on tablets is due to growth in online video activities.

I noted this back in August with my somewhat outlandish prediction that small tablets will eventually replace smartphones. The larger the screen — but still portable, of course — the more immersive and enjoyable the video consumption experience can be.

Ericsson also notes the current shift to HSPA+ and LTE around the world as these faster, more efficient data networks are needed to keep up with demand. By the end of this year, an estimated 55 million subscribers will use LTE, for example, but that number will quickly grow to 1.6 billion  by 2018. In the meantime, however, WCDMA/HSPA networks are shouldering the transitional load with more growth in subscribers than LTE as carriers have to build out new infrastructure for LTE coverage for our mobile screens.

Granted, Ericcson is a major seller of networking equipment, so it stands to benefit from such growth. So perhaps a little skepticism is warranted on the details, but the trends appear sound to me. In fact, mobile operators are likely to be happy with such forecasts as more mobile device sales growth fuels the rallying cry of “spectrum shortage!” However, these same operators are capping mobile broadband plans which Dean Bubly notes on his Disruptive Wireless blog could actually limit growth while helping carriers optimize billing and usage.

5 Responses to “Another year, another doubling of data traffic (Blame video!)”

  1. And yet video playback is STILL the Achilles Heel of many tablets and mobile platforms. Every device that I’ve looked at from the original Galaxy Tab to the PlayBook and the TouchPad all either couldn’t perform or had serious issues trying to work with Netflix and Hulu:

    YouTube? Be my guest, but cute kitten videos just don’t interest me. I’m curious Kevin, if the iPad mini and Nexus 7 show improvement over past tablet failures.

  2. Demand for mobile data could rise 100 times today if pricing wouldn’t be absolutely insane (NAND is cheaper than mobile data- maybe we should just use really fast pigeons). As it is most traffic is forced to wifi because of the pricing.For quite a few more years demand will only depend on pricing,there are plenty of ways to use huge amounts of data if it is cheap enough.Data caps (mobile and non-mobile) are a terrible thing for the future of the internet so we better hope that Google,Amazon, Apple or some other players decide to take the matter into their own hands,that is of course, if regulators don’t start doing their jobs sometime soon.