Mobile traffic globally is soaring, and its rate of growth is accelerating, spurred by a surge in smartphones and tablets, as well as 4G connections.
The average data use of the growing legions of mobile users is rising steeply as well. The traffic per month of the average mobile user in 2012 was 201MB. That volume included on average one hour of video, two hours of audio, one video call, and one app download.
But in five years, by end of 2017, the average traffic per month will be 2GB: 10 hours of video, 15 hours of audio, five video calls and 15 app downloads, according to data and projections in the annual Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) for mobile traffic globally.
Those averages vary widely based on regions. North American mobile users for example averaged 752MB per month in 2012 and are projected to reach 6,171MB per month in 2017. By contrast, Asia Pacific averaged 136MB per month last year and will hit 1,788 in 2017.
According to Cisco, North American mobile users will grow in five years from 288 million to 316 million, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.9%. Globally, the number will jump by nearly 1 billion in that span, from 4.3 billion to 5.2 billion.
The growth in the number of devices will be much higher, and at a much faster rate. In North America, all mobile devices (including machine-to-machine units) will rise from 459 million in 2012 to 841 million in 2017, a CAGR of nearly 13%. The growth rate of other regions is lower but their absolute device numbers are, or is expected to be, even higher.
For all of these devices, network speeds are rapidly improving as 4G expands in some markets like the U.S. and 3G networks expand and improve in many other areas. Cisco says average global mobile network speeds will increase seven times, from 0.5Mbps in 2012 to 3.9Mbps in 2017.
One of the more surprising figures is how much of mobile data is already offloaded from cellular networks to alternatives such as Wi-Fi. Worldwide, 33% of mobile traffic was offloaded in 2012. That will increase by half again, to 46% in 2017. In North America, almost half of mobile traffic - 47% - was offloaded last year; by 2017, it could be 66%.
Wi-Fi is a big part of the connectivity picture for mobile users. According to Cisco, average daily Wi-Fi-based data consumption is four times that of cellular. By the end of 2012, the global average daily data consumption per user on cellular was nearly 14MB; on Wi-Fi, the number was just over 55MB.
In 2012, only about 30% of tablet users had cellular connectivity; about 70% relied entirely on Wi-Fi. Those percentages will not change much over the next five years, according to Cisco. In 2017, over 60% of tablets will have only Wi-Fi; and less than 40% will take advantage of cellular.
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