Mobile video traffic was more than half of all wireless data usage by the end of 2011 at 52%, and video is expected to soar 25-fold between 2011 and 2016 to account for more than 70% of total mobile data traffic by then, according to Cisco Systems' latest mobile data forecast.
Overall, global mobile data traffic grew 2.3-fold in 2011, more than doubling for the fourth year in a row and topping the expected growth rate of 149%, the Cisco Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast for 2011-2016 found. Global mobile data traffic will increase 18-fold over the next five years to hit 10.8 Exabytes (10.8 billion Gigabytes) per month by 2016.
Wireless data is still a fraction of total Internet bandwidth usage, but it's growing more quickly. In 2011, mobile data traffic over 3G and 4G networks was 2% to 4% of total IP traffic. But by 2016 it will be 8% of total global IP traffic.
"While it's starting at a smaller base, [mobile data] is growing three times faster than [wireline] traffic," said Thomas Barnett, senior marketing manager in Cisco's Service Provider Marketing.
According to Cisco's broader VNI forecast covering all IP network usage, by 2015 the global Internet will generate 80.5 Exabytes per month. Video is expected to be more than 50% of all Internet traffic by the end of 2012.
Fueling the growth of mobile data usage, wireless network connection speeds will increase 9-fold by 2016, growing from an average of 189 Kilobits per second in 2011 to more than 2.9 Megabits per second in 2016, according to the latest Cisco forecast.
The Cisco VNI Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast is a "report of reports," which aggregates data from multiple third-party research. The full report can be accessed here.
The wireless industry -- and the FCC -- have pointed to dramatic growth rates of mobile data usage as creating a "spectrum crisis," and the industry and the commission have pushed for legislation encouraging TV broadcasters to voluntarily auction off their spectrum.
"Service providers are certainly seeing today the burgeoning growth on their mobile networks needs to be supported," Barnett said. "We have expectations as users today that mobile will be the same or very much like what we experience on a wired network."
According to Barnett, data-usage caps and tiered pricing are helping carriers control usage among the heaviest mobile-data users. The top 1% of mobile data subscribers generate 24% of mobile data traffic -- down from 35% in 2010.
However, wireless customers with data caps actually are using more data than those who have an unlimited plan, Barnett noted. The average amount of traffic per smartphone in 2011 was 150 MB per month, up from 55 MB per month in 2010. Smartphones represent only 12% of total global handsets in use today, but they represent over 82% of total global handset traffic, according to Cisco's report.
Other key findings from Cisco's latest mobile data forecast:
* By the end of 2012, the number of mobile-connected devices will exceed the number of people on Earth, and by 2016 there will be 1.4 mobile devices per capita. There will be over 10 billion mobile-connected devices in 2016, including machine-to-machine modules, exceeding the world's expected population at that time of 7.2 billion.
* Laptops generate the most mobile data traffic today. There were 175 million laptops on the mobile network in 2011, and each laptop generated 22 times more traffic than the average smartphone. Mobile data traffic per laptop was 2.1 GB per month, up 46% from 1.5 GB per month in 2010.
* In 2011, the number of mobile-connected tablets tripled to 34 million, and each tablet generated 3.4 times more traffic than the average smartphone. In 2011, mobile data traffic per tablet was 517 MB per month, compared with 150 MB per month per smartphone.
* Mobile-connected tablets will generate almost as much traffic in 2016 as the entire global mobile network in 2012. The amount of mobile data traffic generated by tablets in 2016 (1.1 Exabytes per month) will be approximately equal to the total amount of global mobile data traffic in 2012 (1.3 Exabytes per month).
* In 2011, a 4G connection generated 28 times more traffic on average than a non-4G connection. While 4G connections represent only 0.2% of mobile connections today, they account for 6% of mobile data traffic. In 2016, 4G will be 6% and represent 36% of total traffic -- nine times more traffic on average than a non-4G connection.
* The average smartphone will generate 2.6 GB of traffic per month in 2016, a 17-fold increase over the 2011 average of 150 MB per month. Aggregate smartphone traffic in 2016 will be 50 times greater than it is today, with a compound annual growth rate of 119%.
* By 2016, over 3.1 Exabytes of mobile data traffic per month will be offloaded to the fixed network by dual-mode devices and femtocells.
* By 2016, 39% of all global mobile devices could potentially be capable of connecting to an IPv6 mobile network, with more than 4 billion devices IPv6-capable by then. In 2011, 10% of mobile devices were potentially IPv6-capable based on network connection speed and OS capability.
* China will account for more than 10% of global mobile data traffic in 2016, up from less than 5% in 2011.
The Cisco VNI Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast relies in part on data published by Informa Telecoms and Media, Strategy Analytics, Infonetics Research, Datamonitor, Gartner, IDC, Dell'Oro Group, Synergy Research, Nielsen, comScore and the International Telecommunication Union.
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